Chris Mpofu and Sean Williams pulled off a heist in the third one-day international (ODI) to keep Zimbabwe in the hunt in the ongoing series. After succumbing rather tamely in the first two encounters, the hosts combined with Afghanistan to put up a classic of the highest order at the Harare Sports Club.
However, that was only the first step towards keeping the interest levels alive in the series. Irrespective of how big or small the margin is for today’s clash, Zimbabwe will have to win the encounter to ensure there are no dead rubbers in the series.
It’s been a series largely dominated by bowlers, with Zimbabwe pacer, Tendai Chatara, leading the pack with eight wickets from three matches.
More importantly, he has got breakthroughs at crucial times. After breaking important partnerships in the first two matches, he laid the platform for Zimbabwe’s defence in the last encounter by snaring early wickets.
The likes of Mpofu and Graeme Cremer have also chipped in well with the ball, but that has been all for the hosts in a series where they have been largely outplayed with both bat and ball.
On the batting front, Craig Ervine has led the charts, albeit with only 72 runs from three matches at an average of 36. Apart from him, only Tarisai Musakanda (33.50) and Malcolm Waller (40.00) have managed to average above 20 in the series.
Afghanistan, barring the lower-order collapse in the third ODI, have fared far better. With each passing match, they are imposing their authority in limited-overs cricket, much like they are doing in the Intercontinental Cup.
Rahmat Shah, Mohammad Shahzad and Asghar Stanikzai are the top three run-getters in the series. None of them have amassed more than 100 runs, but that is only reflective of how much the series has favoured the bowlers.
Even as a firing top-order bodes well for Afghanistan, the fact that the lower-order hasn’t quite contributed, is a matter of worry. If Zimbabwe manage to push the contest a bit further than they did in the first two matches, Afghanistan could wilt under pressure, like they did on Tuesday.
For Afghanistan, all the bowlers have chipped in effectively. Gulbadin Naib and Rashid Khan, however, have been the wreckers-in-chief. They have bagged seven wickets each and will remain key to Afghanistan’s chances of closing out the series on Friday.
Squads: Zimbabwe (from): Peter Moor(w), Solomon Mire, Tarisai Musakanda, Craig Ervine, Sean Williams, Ryan Burl, Malcolm Waller, Graeme Cremer(c), Tendai Chatara, Richard Ngarava, Chris Mpofu, Sikandar Raza, Nathan Waller, Elton Chigumbura, Wellington Masakadza, Donald Tiripano, Carl Mumba, Hamilton Masakadza
Afghanistan (from): Mohammad Shahzad(w), Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Stanikzai(c), Samiullah Shenwari, Gulbadin Naib, Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Amir Hamza, Fareed Ahmad, Ihsanullah Janat, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Dawlat Zadran, Karim Janat, Aftab Alam.