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Cricket

Afghanistan start T20s higher on morale and rankings



Match facts

Monday, October 26
Start time 1.00pm local (1100 GMT)


Afghanistan will still be flying high from unprecedented success they enjoyed in the ODI series © AFP

Big Picture

Afghanistan’s barnstorming series win in the one-day internationals will fill their squad with renewed vigour and belief (as if they need it), and a change in format will place these teams on an even more equal footing. In fact, given their recent success and their greater experience in Twenty20 cricket, it is not a stretch to suggest that Afghanistan will start as favourites this time around.

Their ranking in the format, five places above Zimbabwe, also suggests as much, though this is slightly misleading due to the difference in opposition that the two teams regularly play. Afghanistan are ranked ninth in international Twenty20 cricket, sandwiched between England and Bangladesh, while Zimbabwe are way down at 14th. But while Zimbabwe and Afghanistan have both played 12 games within the ranking period, Afghanistan’s have largely been against lower rung Associates. Nevertheless, their significant T20 pedigree and experience is undeniable.

Conversely, Zimbabwe are without their leading run-scorer in the format. Hamilton Masakadza has scored 1002 runs in T20Is, with Brendan Taylor and Elton Chigumbura next on the list with 594 and 590 runs respectively, but Masakadza was dropped from Zimbabwe’s squad after Pakistan’s visit earlier this month. Their leading T20 wicket-taker is Prosper Utseya, who took those wickets when he was still an offspinner and is not currently in the frame, though it is understood that he has asked to be considered only as a T20 specialist now with a view to returning to the side ahead of the World T20 next year. Masakadza and Utseya are also Zimbabwe’s most capped players in T20Is. Apart from Chigumbura (33 games) and Chamu Chibhabha (23), Zimbabwe are very thin on international experience in this format.

After their series defeat on Saturday, they are also low on morale. Zimbabwe have played plenty of good, competitive cricket under Dav Whatmore, and the 21 internationals they have played in the last four months alone should have been a cause for celebration, given how long they have struggled with a paucity of games. There have indeed been several highlights, with victories over India, New Zealand and Pakistan, and a series win over Ireland, but those games seem a long time ago now, and the end result is a team low on confidence. Changes in administration and backroom wrangling have also lent an air of unease to local cricket, and it is unclear what fixtures will come after the World T20 next year. Zimbabwe dearly need a win.

Afghanistan’s fixture list isn’t exactly bursting either, but there is a much more settled, happy look to their side. Their five top T20 run-scorers, four of whom have played 30 or more games, are all present and, Hamid Hassan aside, they also have a full complement of bowlers to choose from.

Form guide

Zimbabwe LLLWL (last five completed games, most recent first)
Afghanistan WWLWW

In the spotlight

As Zimbabwe’s most capped player, their captain, and arguably their batsman most suited to this format, Elton Chigumbura will be expected to lead from the front on Monday. Chigumbura is also hunting personal success. His unbeaten 49 helped Zimbabwe over the line in the third ODI, but Chigumbura has generally looked out of sorts with the bat, showing a particular weakness against spin, and has not been able to find the boundary with the frequency he usually does. Zimbabwe have discarded several out-of-form senior players in recent months, and while it is too soon to suggest that Chigumbura may be next, if he does not find some form soon questions will inevitably begin to be asked.

Mohammad Nabi was named Player of the Series after the ODIs, with 233 runs in five innings, including a first-ball duck in the first game, a maiden century in the second and a vital fifty in the fifth. He is Afghanistan’s in-form batsman, and will look to carry that form into these games. He will also look to improve on his surprisingly modest record in this format: Nabi has never scored a T20I fifty, and he averages just 15.40 for Afghanistan. His handy second string as an offspinner will also be useful to Afghanistan in these conditions.

Team news

Zimbabwe have made a few changes to their squad for the T20Is, drafting in Malcolm Waller, Taurai Muzarabani, Chris Mpofu and Mountaineers batsman Kevin Kasuza. Some freshness in their XI would probably do Zimbabwe good, and Waller has just come off back-to-back hundreds against Ireland, while Kasuza scored 80 for the Chairman’s XI in Afghanistan’s first warm-up match of their tour. While Sikandar Raza experienced stiffness in his knee on Saturday, he trained with the team on Sunday and should be fit to play.

Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Chamu Chibhabha, 2 Kevin Kasuza, 3 Sean Williams, 4 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 5 Malcolm Waller, 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 8 Luke Jongwe, 9 Tendai Chisoro, 10 Wellington Masakadza, 11 Taurai Muzarabani.

Afghanistan’s T20 squad includes a couple of specialists, particularly allrounders Karim Sadiq and Gulbadin Naib. Usman Ghani, the 18-year-old opener, will replace Noor Ali Zadran at the top of the order, while Shapoor Zadran, who has been bowling swiftly in the nets, could also come into the side.

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

Pitch and conditions

The dryness in the Queens Sports Club square has brought spinners to the fore and also offered quicks with the ability to move both the new and old ball, such as Dawlat Zadran, something to work with. But the shortness of this format will obviously not allow the ball to age as much, tipping the scales back in the batsmen’s favour. All the same, both teams will need to take a full toll in the first six overs to reach a defendable total, with short boundaries square of the wicket.

The weather should stay hot and sunny for the first game.

Stats and trivia

  • Elton Chigumbura’s career strike rate of 154.04 is the highest in Zimbabwe’s squad
  • This game will be Zimbabwe’s eighth in T20Is this year, making it their busiest ever in the format
  • Queens Sports Club has only hosted two T20Is in the past, both against Bangladesh in 2013. In both games the first-innings score was 168, and the side batting first won
  • Mohammad Shahzad has hit the most sixes for Afghanistan in T20Is, with 28 in 31 games. He has also scored the most fifties for them, with seven.

Quotes

“It was my best performance against a Full Member and hopefully in the upcoming matches I can also continue my good bowling.”
Dawlat Zadran was Afghanistan’s Man of the Match on Saturday, and will continue to be a handful

“It’s going to be tough. Their confidence is up, and we just got beaten by an Associate.”
Zimbabwe coach Dav Whatmore is well aware of the challenge that awaits his team in the T20s

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town


©
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.







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