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Cricket

Afghanistan eye another historic first



Match facts

Wednesday 28 October
Start time 1.00pm local (1100 GMT)


Craig Ervine has a poor record in T20 internationals, but Zimbabwe are likely to persist with him due to the lack of a credible alternative in their squad © AFP

The big picture

The final home international of Zimbabwe’s busiest season in more than a decade draws to a close with the second Twenty20 against Afghanistan at Queens Sports Club. Zimbabwe have little but pride to play for, but Afghanistan will be chasing another historic first. Afghanistan’s win on Monday was their first over a Full Member in Twenty20 internationals, and if they complete another victory on Wednesday they will have achieved another notable first with a win over a Full Member in a Twenty20 series.

That is partly indicative of the fact that Associate teams tend to play Full Members only during major tournaments, but perhaps Afghanistan’s most important achievement on this tour has been to effectively blur the line between the bottom rung of the Full Members and the top Associates – something that Ireland just failed to do, despite playing in three fantastically exciting games.

Many have been left asking how it’s possible that Zimbabwe have regressed so quickly, after all the gains that have been made this year, and both the media and fan pages are awash with theories as to what is ailing them. Pride has been pricked, alarm and despondency unleashed. But that is missing the point just a little. Zimbabwe appear to have been caught off guard by the intensity of competition offered by Afghanistan, and the real story is how much Afghanistan have progressed, rather than the other way around.

If there’s one area in which Afghanistan have truly surpassed Zimbabwe, it’s the enjoyment they seem to derive from every act of the game. Raees Ahmadzai, a former Afghanistan captain, remarked that the one-day series win was celebrated at home as though Afghanistan had just won the World Cup, and there were tears in the eyes of the cricketers as they celebrated that victory. Afghanistan’s passion for the game is self evident.

It would be churlish to suggest that Zimbabwe’s cricketers don’t play with pride and passion of their own, but it is clear that there is a spark missing. Perhaps, after what will have felt like a humiliating defeat, they need to rediscover what it was that drew them to the game in the first place. Wednesday’s game must be seen as an opportunity to do that.

Form guide

(Last five completed matches, most recent first)
Zimbabwe LLLLW
Afghanistan WWWLW

In the spotlight

There are no television cameras to capture it, nor speed guns to measure it, but Dawlat Zadran has looked leagues above the other seamers on either side with the old ball during this tour. Dawlat was clocked at just over 145kph at the Asia Cup last year, and he has certainly looked swift in every match here, but more impressive than his pace has been the direction of his yorkers at the death, and his controlled use of reverse swing. Dawlat picked up a career best 4-22 in the deciding ODI, and his late burst on Monday turned the match for Afghanistan. He will be expected to keep Zimbabwe’s batsmen leashed once again.

Zimbabwe appear beyond the point where a single individual might stand out and make a difference for the team. The impressive efforts of the spinners Tendai Chisoro and Wellington Masakadza weren’t enough to turn the ODI series for them, and Sikandar Raza (86) and Sean Williams (102) both contributed heroic innings in vain. The entire Zimbabwean team is going to have to coalesce if they are to raise themselves out of this funk. That’s difficult to do when you’re not winning much, but it’s the only real path back to success for them.

Team news

Craig Ervine’s form has tailed off dramatically in his last four matches, and he is yet to convince as a Twenty20 batsman, with a strike rate of 80.50 from 13 matches. But the only replacement for him in the squad is the uncapped Kevin Kasuza, whose domestic T20 record is also modest. Zimbabwe will thus probably go with an unchanged XI.

Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Chamu Chibhabha, 2 Sikandar Raza, 3 Sean Williams, 4 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 5 Craig Ervine, 6 Malcolm Waller, 7 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 8 Tendai Chisoro, 9 Wellington Masakadza, 10 Taurai Muzarabani, 11 Chris Mpofu.

Afghanistan’s XI performed solidly as a team on Monday, and there is no pressing reason for them to consider changes to their side.

Afghanistan (probable): 1 Usman Ghani, 2 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 3 Karim Sadiq, 4 Asghar Stanikzai (capt), 5 Mohammad Nabi, 6 Najibullah Zadran, 7 Shafiqullah, 8 Gulbadin Naib, 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Dawlat Zadran, 11 Amir Hamza.

Pitch and conditions

Zimbabwe’s effort with the bat on Monday was probably about 20 runs under par, and the short boundaries and hard ball should theoretically make run-scoring fairly easy in this format, in these conditions. Having played on every one of the surfaces on the square during this tour, both teams will have a good idea what to expect from the surface. Spin will continue to be important, though the battle between bat and ball should remain an equal one.

The day before the match was blustery and cloudy, but the weather should clear by Wednesday.

Stats and trivia

  • Zimbabwe have won only seven of the 39 T20Is they have played, and three of those wins were against Canada, Netherlands and UAE.
  • Afghanistan have won 18 of the 32 T20Is they have played, but their victory over Zimbabwe on Monday was their first over a Full Member.
  • Najibullah Zadran has hit more sixes (16) than fours (14) in T20Is.
  • Sean Williams is Zimbabwe’s leading runscorer in T20 cricket this year, with 177 runs from seven innings at an average of 35.40 and a strike rate of 122.06.

Quotes

“Psychologically, Zimbabwe are under a lot of pressure now, especially after losing the ODI series.”
Dawlat Zadran points to one of the reasons for Zimbabwe’s slump

“Queens is a flat track, and if we bat first again we have to put on much more than 150.”
Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura knows that his team’s total in the first match was below par

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town


©
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.







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