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28 February 201515:37 By Dileep Premachandran, Brisbane

Pakistan v Zimbabwe Preview, Match 23, Brisbane

Both sides need a win to keep quarter-final hopes alive

Pakistan v Zimbabwe Preview, Match 23, Brisbane - Cricket News

Pakistan players celebrate the wicket of Rohit Sharma.

Talk of 1992, and cornered tigers, must have started to grate with Misbah-ul-Haq. But when it comes to ground realities, Misbah’s team finds itself pretty much where Imran Khan’s side was when it took on Australia in Perth all those years ago. If Pakistan loses against Zimbabwe on Sunday (March 1), with games against UAE, South Africa and Ireland still to come, a quarter-final spot could be out of reach.

The criticism from back home has been fierce, and Misbah admitted it was hard to keep spirits up after the reaction to the defeats against India and the West Indies.

“I think as the management, as senior players, as a captain, it is our duty here to just really motivate the youngsters to keep doing good things and just be focussed. If you're positive, you have that belief. That is the only way to come out of these difficult times. That's what we are trying to do. We're working hard. We are working on the mental aspects also. So let's see how it goes,” he said on Saturday.

Pakistan is likely to make two changes to the XI that lost to the West Indies. On a lightly grassed and bouncy Gabba pitch, Yasir Shah, the leg-spinner, will likely play against opponents that have traditionally struggled against quality wrist spin. Sarfraz Ahmed should also be restored to the top of the order in place of Younis Khan.

Zimbabwe, meanwhile, has batted with great assurance in all its outings, but been held back by slog-overs bowling. The West Indies posted 372 for 2 while South Africa helped itself to 339 for 4. Zimbabwe will need to be especially wary against a Pakistan side that tends to start slowly before building to a late-innings onslaught. In Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi, Pakistan has two individuals perfectly equipped to take advantage of old-ball frailty.

The pitch should be an excellent one for batting, though it’s also likely to quicken up under lights. Despite Ireland pulling off a nail-biting win while chasing against United Arab Emirates, the blueprint for success could well be to bat first and put anything in excess of 260 on the board.

For Zimbabwe, the secret weapon could be familiarity. After all, Dav Whatmore, the coach, was in charge of Pakistan for two years before taking on this assignment. "He knows almost everyone on the team, so when it comes to strategies and stuff, it's much better to have someone who has been working with Pakistan guys," said Elton Chigumbura, the captain, on the eve of the game. "We just have to go and execute our plans tomorrow. He's brought a lot of positives into the team, and everyone is comfortable in the way he's sharing his experience.”

The problem for both sides has been in executing those skills over 50 overs with bat and ball. Pakistan holds the edge when the two teams have faced off, winning 27 of 30 ODI meetings, while also taking the most recent series 2-1 in Harare in 2013. Never has a win been more important.

Teams (likely):

Pakistan: Ahmed Shahzad, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Haris Sohail, Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Wahab Riaz, Yasir Shah, Sohail Khan, Mohammad Irfan.

Zimbabwe: Sikander Raza, Chamu Chibhabha, Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor (wk), Sean Williams, Craig Ervine, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Elton Chigumbura (capt), Tinashe Panyangara, Tendai Chatara, Tafadzwa Kamungozi