The contrasting paths of Afghanistan and Zimbabwe in 2015 couldn’t be starker. Afghanistan sealed their maiden World Cup win, and qualified for the upcoming World T20 in India. By Deivarayan Muthu, sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
They followed it up with landmark limited-overs series wins against Zimbabwe at their backyard. Afghanistan ticked off another first in the series opener against Zimbabwe in Sharjah: the lowest total defended by an Associate team against a Full Member.
Zimbabwe showed promise against India but have tailed off dramatically since then. Their sixth loss against Afghanistan displaced them from the top ten in the ICC ODI charts. And Zimbabwe will be left meandering down south, even below Ireland, if they concede their third straight series across formats to Afghanistan.
Zimbabwe seem to have the potential, but have not yet cracked methods to turn that into results. On Thursday, for instance, legspinner Graeme Cremer displayed subtle changes in flight and pace to bag five wickets only for Zimbabwe’s batsmen to fold for 82.
Sean Williams’ absence has put more pressure on Elton Chigumbura, who was the only Zimbabwe batsman, to tally over 100 runs in the ODI series in Bangladesh.
That batting is Zimbabwe’s major worry is well documented, but they need to click together if they are to put it across Afghanistan who are improving with experience. Having assessed the pitch quickly in the first ODI, Afghanistan opened with slow-left arm spinner Amir Hamza and dismantled Zimbabwe. Noor Ali Zadran, Mohammad Shahzad, and captain Asghar Stanikzai all have scores of substance to back up their recent form, despite a collapse of their own on Thursday.
(Last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
In a side with flashier players, Amir Hamza‘s bowling is more workman-like. After missing the World Cup, Hamza tied Zimbabwe in knots with his tidy bowling. He adjusted well to the new ball and claimed career-best figures of 4 for 17, which formed the cornerstone of his side’s low-scoring win in the first ODI.
An all rounder in the mould of Neil Johnson, Chamu Chibhabha has been one of the bright spots for Zimbabwe in an otherwise dark season. Having made his debut in 2005, Chibhabha finally gained a foothold at the international level in his 10th year, making 859 ODI runs, including six fifties at 33.03. However, he has not managed a fifty in his last eight ODI innings to add to going wicketless against Afghanistan in the last series. Zimbabwe will hope a rediscovery of form can help their reversal in fortunes.
Afghanistan named a large 21-member squad for the tour of the UAE, but may not be too keen to fiddle with a winning combination. Zimbabwe, meanwhile, may consider bringing back Hamilton Masakadza, in place of Peter Moor, to strengthen their batting. And it may not be a bad idea for Zimbabwe to replace Taurai Muzarabani with Tinashe Panyangara who bowled with good discipline in Bangladesh.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Chamu Chibhabha, 2 Hamilton Masakadza/ Peter Moor, 3 Craig Ervine, 4 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 5 Sikandar Raza, 6 Malcolm Waller, 7 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 8 Luke Jongwe, 9 Graeme Cremer 10 Wellington Masakadza 11. Taurai Muzarabani/ Tinashe Panyangara
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Noor Ali Zadran, 2 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 3 Mohammad Nabi, 4 Nawroz Mangal, 5 Asghar Stanikzai (capt), 6 Samiullah Shenwari, 7 Najibullah Zadran, 8 Mirwais Ashraf, 9 Dawlat Zadran, 10 Amir Hamza, 11 Yamin Ahmadzai
Pitch and conditions
The track for the first ODI lacked sheen and turned to be slow, offering assistance for spin. The one for the second match is expected to be no different.
Stats and trivia
- Both Afghanistan and Zimbabwe have seven ODI wins in 2015. Afghanistan have done so in 16 matches as opposed to Zimbabwe’s 30.
- Pacer Dawlat Zadran needs three wickets to become the third Afghanistan bowler, after Hamid Hasan and Nabi, to reach 50 ODI scalps
“I thought we started well, at one stage we thought they would score 270. Cremer and Wellington bowled well, [but] disappointing with the bat. Me and Moor got in, we are the ones who lost this game, we didn’t take it home.”
Elton Chigumbura inspects Zimbabwe’s batting woes