Harare - All through this Test match, there's been a wait for Zimbabwe's inexperienced team to falter. Sure they bowled well when the pitch was fresh in the first session of the game, but could they do it when the track eased up? They did. Sure they bowled well on the first day, but could their brittle batting stand up to Pakistan's highly rated bowling? They did.
The third day was supposed to be the best day for batting in Harare; would their new-look bowling be able to do the job? They certainly started well, bagging three early wickets to consolidate on the 78-run advantage they had after the first innings, causing plenty of excitement over the possibility of Zimbabwe's first Test win over a top eight side in 12 years.
Then they came up against the seasoned firefighters, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younus Khan, who with some old-fashioned Test batting helped Pakistan erase the deficit. There has been a clamour in Pakistan for inducting more youngsters in the team, but it was Pakistan's two oldest batsmen who revived the side from a precarious 23 for 3 with a 116-run partnership.
Both Younus and Misbah were content with preserving their wicket, not searching for quick runs. They were happy to leave everything they could and put away the flashy shots - the reverse-sweep was brought only to counter a 7-2 leg-side field when offspinner Prosper Utseya was operating round the wicket. The pair neutralised Zimbabwe's limited attack for more than three hours and though they were plenty of half-chances - stumping appeals, inside-edges and bottom edges - the wicket proved elusive. Younus ended the day unbeaten on 76, a significant innings for a man who had only one 50-plus score in his past 10 Test innings, and was phased out of the ODI side earlier this year. He has made his name as a man who scores when the team is down, a reputation he underlined with another combative innings.
Though the favourite adjective to describe Pakistan cricket is 'mercurial', there is one near certainty when they play - a Misbah half-century. In 10 of his past 13 international innings, he has passed 50, almost all of them after the top order has combusted.
On none of those occasions has he gone on to a hundred, and he didn't today either.
Zimbabwe would have been downcast if Pakistan had gone to stumps with only three wickets down. Instead, soon after Misbah reached his 50, he pushed a catch to cover. Zimbabwe knew just how big a big moment it was. The bowler Shingi Masakadza set off on a celebratory run, before pumping his arms and screaming at the skies. In contrast, Misbah was on one knee, bat on the floor with his arms covering his face.
Younus and Shafiq safely negotiated the final 11 overs of the day, taking the lead to 90 and ensuring two specialist batsmen were still in the middle. The rescue operation was needed after some good work from Zimbabwe's bowlers. As in the first innings, they produced the early breakthroughs not with magic deliveries but by sticking to the basics of line and length.
The sixth over of the innings, bowled by Tinashe Panyangara, which produced the wicket of Khurram Manzoor showcased their method of operation - pitching the ball up and constantly attacking the stumps, making the batsman play. With several deliveries swerving away in the over, Manzoor decided to shoulder arms to one, which turned out to be a straight ball that thudded into his pads. It looked a touch high but the umpire thought otherwise, and for the second time in the game, Manzoor's innings ended early through a tough decision.
Azhar Ali, who played a vital role in rescuing Pakistan after their top-order failed in the first innings, couldn't do the job this time, as the accurate Panyangara had him trapped lbw for a duck. Neither of the opening bowlers provided any cheap runs, and Panyangara's figures read 7-4-6-2 at one stage. Mohammad Hafeez has had a forgettable 2013 in Tests, and could have added a golden duck to his string of low scores this year, but his first-ball edge landed short of slips. He didn't last too long anyway, falling tamely after driving a low catch to short cover. His dismissal for 16 left him with a paltry 64 runs in eight innings this year.
That strikes only buoyed a resolute Zimbabwe, whose lower order had hung around for more than an hour in the morning session to fatten what had been a slender overnight lead. Saeed Ajmal's variations proved too much for them, though, and he wiped out the final three wickets to end up with a seven-for, the second of his career. His threat looms large over Zimbabwe's over the next two days as well.
PAKISTAN 1ST INNINGS: 249
ZIMBABWE 1ST INNINGS:
T Mawoyo c Adnan b Junaid 13
V Sibanda c Adnan b Junaid 31
H Masakadza b Ajmal 19
Sikandar Raza c Misbah b Ajmal 60
M Waller c Hafeez b Ajmal 70
E Chigumbura c Azhar b Ajmal 69
R Mutumbami lbw b Ajmal 13
P Utseya b Rahat 16
S Masakadza lbw b Ajmal 14
T Panyangara not out 4
T Chatara c Younus b Ajmal 0
EXTRAS: (b5, lb11, w2) 18
TOTAL: (all out; 103.3 overs) 327
FOW: 1-25, 2-68, 3-68, 4-195, 5-212, 6-235, 7-278, 8-310, 9-327
BOWLING: Junaid Khan 25-8-71-2, Rahat Ali 23-3-70-1, Abdur Rehman 19-5-56-0, Ajmal 32.3-4-95-7, Younus Khan 4-1-19-0
PAKISTAN 2ND INNINGS:
Khurram Manzoor lbw b Panyangara 5
M Hafeez c Mawoyo b Chatara 16
Azhar Ali lbw b Panyangara 0
Younus Khan not out 76
Misbah-ul-Haq c Sibanda b S Masakadza 52
Asad Shafiq not out 15
EXTRAS: (b4) 4
TOTAL: (4 wkts, 70 overs) 168
FOW: 1-17, 2-21, 3-23, 4-139
BOWLING: Chatara 18-5-48-1, Panyangara 13-7-15-2, Utseya 18-3-54-0, S Masakadza 16-1-41-1, H Masakadza 5-3-6-0
UMPIRES: S Davis (Aus), R Martinesz (SL)
TV UMPIRE: J Matibiri (Zim)
MATCH REFEREE: Javagal Srinath (Ind)