For the fans of One-Day Internationals and the Men in Green, however, the pickings remained slim
The year 2020 was a nightmare for the world due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. With all the mayhem and chaos the year entailed, cricket took a backseat as countries scrambled to defend themselves against the spread of the deadly virus.
The bio-secure bubble, first implemented by England for their series against West Indies, finally opened the doors for cricket’s triumphant return as the fans braced themselves for the sport they love.
For the fans of One-Day Internationals and the Men in Green, however, the pickings remained slim. A solitary three-match ODI series against Zimbabwe was the only offering available throughout the year that was played in an empty Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in its entirety.
It must be noted that three ODIs against Netherlands, away, and a solitary ODI against Bangladesh, on home soil, were postponed due to Covid-19.
A battle between the sixth-placed Pakistan and the 14th ranked Zimbabwe might not have been a pleasing prospect for many in the years before, but under the circumstances it was a much-needed break from the havoc engulfing the world.
At first glance, this year should have been a breeze for the Men in Green. A lowly ranked Zimbabwe side would face a Pakistan side fresh off a rebranded and highly successful National T20 Cup, which brought fresh faces to the forefront, on their home ground. However, Pakistan ended the year with a final tally of two wins and one loss from three ODI matches played in 2020.
Prolific batsman Babar Azam was made the skipper of the Pakistan side in ODIs and this was his first assignment. All eyes were on him to deliver and the batsman appeared unfazed by the challenge of leading the most volatile national team in the history of cricket.
Superstar Shaheen dismantles Zimbabwe
After setting up a target of 282 for Zimbabwe during the first ODI, the Men in Green wanted to make a dent early. Pakistan’s star pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi did not disappoint, removing the openers within the first five overs of the chase.
The tall left-arm pacer has developed a lethal inswinger with the new ball that has been the undoing of many batsmen and that skill was on full display during that first ODI against Zimbabwe.
The star-bowler took five wickets in the match to ensure victory for his side in his allotted 10 overs at the expense of 49 runs. His raw pace and movement made this spell one of the best moments for Pakistan in terms of ODIs for the year 2020.
Iftikhar takes an unexpected fifer
All-rounder Iftikhar Ahmed has never been known as a destroyer of batting units but in the second ODI against Zimbabwe in Rawalpindi, the otherwise pedestrian right-arm off-spinner could do no wrong enroute to an unexpected five-wicket haul.
The Zimbabwe batsmen, wrongly marking him as the bowler to score freely off, decided to take their chances against Ahmed which led to disastrous results for the visiting side as the off-spinner ripped the foundation out of their middle-order.
Ahmed’s five wickets at the expense of just 40 runs in his allotted 10 overs helped his side wrap up Zimbabwe for a paltry total of 206 and set the stage for the only utterly dominant ODI victory for Pakistan in the year 2020.
88 for 5 against Zimbabwe:
A simple three-nil ODI series whitewash was expected but Zimbabwe, however, had other plans. After setting Pakistan a tricky target of 279 runs in the third ODI, the bowlers poured their hearts out on the field. The result was a dramatic collapse of the Pakistan top-order that left them reeling and humiliated at 88 for the loss of five wickets in 17.3 overs.
The top-order of Pakistan’s national side had no answers to the Zimbabwe bowlers who were relentless in their approach and ambition to drive their team to victory. The epic and unexpected batting collapse, that left the spectators jaws hanging, remains a forgettable moment of the year 2020 for Pakistan in ODIs.
The super over fiasco:
Pakistan barely survived that initial top-order collapse thanks to a perfect hundred by captain Babar Azam and a gritty half-century by tailender Wahab Riaz that took the match into the super over.
The fans took a sigh of relief as a humiliating loss had been seemingly averted and the year 2020 would end on a high in terms of ODIs.
What followed however shocked the entire cricketing community and became the most forgettable moment of the entire year, even taking into account all other formats.
Blessing Muzarabani removed batsman Iftikhar Ahmed and Khushdil Shah inside four deliveries as while giving away just two runs to drive the final nail in the coffin of Pakistan’s defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe in the third and final ODI in Rawalpindi. The tourists chased the required runs down in three balls to set up a historic victory.
On October 30, Pakistan’s best batsman assumed the responsibility of leading the side in ODIs during the first match against Zimbabwe in Rawalpindi. It was a monumental occasion that came with several murmurs and speculations about how it could potentially be Babar’s undoing. Adding more pressure on a once-in-a-generation player could have proved disastrous for the Pakistan side if the prolific batsman failed to deliver the same performances that had brought him the forefront.
Babar got out after scoring just 19 runs against Zimbabwe in the first match to further fuel the flames of the speculation that making him captain was not the right call.
A world-class batsman like Babar however could not be denied for long as he came back firing on all cylinders in the final two ODI matches of the tour.
The prolific batsman made 77 runs off 74 deliveries and a whopping 125-run knock off the same number of deliveries to announce his arrival in the leadership role and cement his spot as the top performer of the year for Pakistan in ODI’s for the year 2020.
Babar Azam finishes the year with 221 runs from three ODIs, with an average of 110.5 at a strike rate of 101.84.
The 20-year-old pacer from Hyderabad has been performing in leagues and domestic matches while being on the fringes of cementing a spot in the national side for a while.
The tall pacer has a smooth action along with fiery pace that is as eye-catching as it is hard to face in the limited formats of the sport.
The youngster received his only chance for the year in ODIs during the third and final match against Zimbabwe and took the match by storm.
The fast-bowler charged in with the hunger to prove himself at the highest level of the sport and delivered in spades. Hasnain ended the match with five wickets in 10 overs at the expense of just 26 runs with three maidens and an economy rate of 2.6.
The fast-bowler left no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was the emerging star of the year for Pakistan in ODIs for the year 2020.