A DESPONDENT Brendan Taylor powered his way to his first ODI century against Pakistan but Zimbabwe fell short in the chase in a tight battle in Rawalpindi yesterday.

The experienced batsman was handed the player-of-the-match award, despite his team losing by 26 runs, and felt the gong could also have gone to host pacer Shaheen Afridi.

“I feel very lucky to get this man-of-the-match award as I feel Shaheen should have got it,” Taylor said.

“You’re up against a very skillful attack at the death and they were too good at the end. It was that skill level at the death that took it away from us.”

With little to split the two sides across the best part of 90 overs, it was the two bowling units’ contrasting performances, in the final five overs at each innings, that took Pakistan home.

While Zimbabwe had been disciplined – if unspectacular – with the ball for the first 40 overs of the Pakistan innings, sloppiness crept in under pressure, and a few extras and full-tosses allowed Pakistan’s lower order to plunder 90 in the final 10 overs.

A more accomplished bowling attack may have smelled blood after reducing Pakistan to 205 for six, but Zimbabwe aren’t quite there yet.

When Zimbabwe required 88, off the final 10 overs with six wickets in hand, they were ahead in the game at that stage, but Afridi turned things around.

Benefitting from the added pressure, after the dismissal of Wesley Madhevere by Wahab Riaz, another key point of differential between the sides – Afridi flummoxed Taylor with a perfectly disguised slower ball that was scooped scooped high up to mid-off.

Riaz dealt the killer blow.

It was his third wicket of the night, and he’d come back for two more in his final over for his second five-wicket haul in ODI cricket.

Taylor and newboy Wesley Madhevere caught the eye.

Zimbabwe pushed the hosts to the boundary but were eventually beaten by 26 runs.

But in retrospect, this was a game that Taylor and company could have won if they had believed.

Taylor set up a new milestone when he scored his 17th international ton to surpass legend Andy Flower’s record in the process.

He now has the most number of centuries for Zimbabwe across formats.

Zimbabwe could only muster 255 runs in their pursuit of Pakistan’s 281/8.

This meant that the hosts secured 10 points in their first Cricket World Cup Super League fixture.

The 20-year-old Madhevere gave the clearest hint that Zimbabwe now need to move forward, in terms of chopping off deadwood, and building for the future.

Madhevere gave Taylor support with a mature knock of 55 runs.

This was his second ODI fifty.

He scored his half ton in only his second international match in Bangladesh earlier this year.

Yet, Pakistan withstood the stunning fightback to hang on for a thrilling win on home turf.

The result might appear somewhat routine, but it was anything but guaranteed when Taylor was at the crease, on his way to stroking a glorious century that, alongside a fighting half-century from Madhevere, took Zimbabwe to the brink of a famous win.

But, as the final five overs loomed and the asking rate began to creep up, Madhevere chopped Riaz on to end a 119-run fifth-wicket partnership. Taylor was undone by a slower Afridi delivery soon after, and things unravelled quickly thereafter.

Zimbabwe were bowled out for 255, and in a game of fine margins, Pakistan’’s wagging tail earlier on made all the difference.

Set 282 to win, Zimbabwe looked to have a structured sense of pacing the chase, going hard in the powerplay at debutant Haris Rauf, undeterred by the loss of Brain Chari in the first over.

While Afridi, who was tremendous throughout the innings whenever called upon, gave them little to attack, some loose deliveries from the other end were all they needed, and Chamu Chibhabha, followed by Craig Ervine and Taylor, made the most of the fielding restrictions, speeding to 56 in the powerplay.

It was well over what Pakistan had managed, and set Zimbabwe the base from which they moulded their chase.

While Taylor looked comfortable for much of the innings, Ervine (41) found himself flustered by Pakistan’s tightness in the middle overs, and a rash reverse sweep spelt the end of him.

Sean Williams (4) never looked up to the mark on the day, meaning Madhevere was tasked with being the support act for Taylor.

He did that with immense class, showcasing an attractive batting technique and, when things got hairier, a certain steel that bodes well for the career that lies ahead of him.

The punches off the back foot against pace were especially eye-catching, and out of nowhere, it seemed, he had brought up a half-century.

Once Sikandar Raza was felled by Riaz, Afridi took charge against the tail, removing Carl Mumba to complete a five-for he richly deserved.

By this time, the game was done, and Pakistan would walk away with a win, and a bit of a scare. — Sports Reporter/Cricinfo