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Zimbabwe were unfortunate to lose the first One-Day International to Afghanistan at Harare Sports Club today after a particularly good bowling performance had enabled them to bowl the visitors out for 215 in the morning. Unfortunately their top-order batsmen did not handle a somewhat difficult pitch well enough, but they were still in with a good chance of victory when rain destroyed the match in mid-afternoon.
The Zimbabwe team lacked five players who had failed their stringent fitness tests, and this opened the way for the left-handed batsman Ryan Burl and left-arm pace bowler Richard Ngarava to make their debuts after impressive performances for Zimbabwe A. Ngarava has yet to play first-class cricket.
Solomon Mire also made a return to the Zimbabwe team, his first appearance for the national team in a home match.
The morning was warm and sunny, although very liable to change, so Afghanistan decided to bat on winning the toss. The pitch looked flat, with little grass, and had some bounce, but the slowness did not make it ideal for batting.
Tendai Chatara bowled the first over to Mohammad Shahzad, who lashed his fourth delivery through the covers for four, and repeated the treatment when he faced Ngarava, who responded with a well-bowled bouncer.
Shahzad then slashed at the fourth ball of the over, and was well caught by Chris Mpofu right on the midwicket boundary for eight; 10 for one in the second over.
Rahmat Shah might well have been caught in the gully off a lifting ball from Ngarava before he had scored, but took a single, and off the following delivery Noor Ali Zadran skyed a hook that fell just short of deep fine leg.
It was fine bowling by the Zimbabwe seamers, backed by some tight but not infallible fielding, making the Afghan batsmen fight to survive and to score. After 10 overs the score was 28 for one.
When Mpofu and Mire took over the bowling, they did a fair job, although both bowled too short at times, but runs began to come more quickly and the fifty came up in the 15th over.
After this the batsmen looked to score more quickly, and between they scored 10 off an over from Mpofu.
Ngarava replaced him, opposite Cremer now, and again showed his quality as he troubled the batsmen.
Cremer achieved the breakthrough, though, as Shah (31) tried to drive him for six, but only sent up a skyer to backward point; 77 for two in the 20th over.
Asghar Stanikzai came out swinging, though, and hit Cremer for a two and a six off the remaining three balls in the over.
Cremer soon reasserted himself, though, teasing both batsmen and gaining his reward when he trapped Zadran lbw for 39; 97 for three in the 25th over.
The left-handed Hashmatullah Shahidi came in, and the hundred came up after the 27th over.
Stanikzai continued to attack, but Shahidi on 11 was dropped by Chatara on the long-leg boundary, the ball also travelling for four.
There were several other instances of Afghan batsmen miscuing the ball, but having the good fortune to evade the fielders – the slowness of the pitch may well have been the cause.
Shahidi was run out for 21 as Stanikzai called him for a quick single to reach his fifty, only for Mpofu to run him out superbly as he followed through quickly off his own bowling; 156 for four after 39 overs.
Stanikzai reached a fine fifty off 56 balls, but off the next delivery he faced, from Raza, he holed out to deep midwicket; 158 for five in the 40th over.
The new batsmen struggled to score, and Mohammad Nabi went for six as he sent up a huge skyer off Mpofu that was well taken by Mire at long-on; 167 for six in the 43rd over.
Gulbadin Naib (one) popped a gentle return catch to Cremer, and at 169 for seven Zimbabwe were controlling the game.
Najibullah Zadran and Rashid Khan fought back for a while, until Zadran was well caught by Burl at deep midwicket off Mpofu for 11; 192 for eight in the 47th over.
In the following over Chatara had Dawlat Zadran caught at the wicket for two (195 for nine), but a snick to the boundary by Khan in the 49th over brought up the 200.
Khan laid into the inexperienced Ngarava, pulling him for two huge sixes, but he then tried to drive the second ball of the final over for another six, but only skyed it to long-on.
Khan was out for 32 off 18 balls, and the Afghan total was 215.
Cremer took three wickets for 46, and there were two each to Chatara and Mpofu.
On paper the target for Zimbabwe was none too difficult, but they would have to adjust their batting to suit the pitch.
Zimbabwe opened their batting with PJ Moor and Mire, against the bowling of the left-arm spinner Amir Hamza and the seamer Dawlat Zadran.
Moor hit two successive fours in Zadran’s first over, but Mire never looked comfortable, and scored two runs off 11 balls before being adjudged lbw to Hamza; 15 for one in the fifth over.
Moor, like some of the Afghan batsmen, was too eager to try a six-hit on this pitch, and with 18 off 20 balls he unwisely holed out at long-on off the bowling of Nabi, who had replaced Zadran.
At 21 for two in the sixth over, Craig Ervine and Raza now had to rebuild the innings.
They did so steadily for a while, until Raza miscued an attempt pull off the medium-pacer Naib and lobbed a catch to mid-on for 12; 44 for three in the 15th over, and the match was in the balance.
Burl now joined Ervine, and the two left-handers concentrated on steady play and well-placed ones and twos to keep the score ticking over.
Rain threatened, and Zimbabwe were marginally ahead on Duckworth-Lewis when Burl missed a spinning ball from Khan and was adjudged lbw for 28; 99 for four in the 28th over.
At this point the drizzle became heavier and the players left the field, with Afghanistan now leading by 13 runs according to Duckworth-Lewis.
Ervine, who had played a wise, well-paced innings, was unbeaten with 38, and may well have led his team to victory had he had the opportunity.
It had been hoped to restart the match at 4.30, but the Afghans complained about a damp area near the square, which no doubt they would have ignored had they been the team in arrears.
To the annoyance of the crowd, the ground staff tried to dry it further, but they failed, and the light worsened, which meant that the match was abandoned just after five o’clock, with Afghanistan declared the victors.
Afghanistan – 215 all out in 49.2 overs (Asghar Stanikzai 50, Noor Ali Zadran 39, Rashid Khan 32; Graeme 3/46, Tendai Chatara 2/17, Chris Mpofu 2/45)
Zimbabwe – 99 for 4 in 27.2 overs (Craig Ervine 38*, Ryan Burl 28; Gulbadin Naib 1/12, Rashid Khan 1/17, Amir Hamza 1/17)
Afghanistan won by 12 runs (Duckworth-Lewis)
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