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Afghanistan stun Zimbabwe to seal series 3-2

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For the second time in the series the weather played Zimbabwe a very bad hand as they went down in the final and deciding ODI to Afghanistan by 106 runs in almost farcical circumstances, with a Duckworth-Lewis ruling, losing the series three-two.

Zimbabwe paid the penalty for a mediocre bowling and fielding display when rain cut 28 overs from their innings and forced them to chase a very difficult target in less favourable batting conditions. The loss of early wickets soon turned the very difficult into the impossible, the batsmen did not handle the situation wisely or well, and it was a sad end to what had appeared to be a revival in the Zimbabwe team’s play and fortunes.

In the morning the weather was, as usual, partly cloudy, with a threat of rain later, and the pitch promised to be rather slow and flat. Afghanistan, desperate to find a winning combination, made four changes for this match, while Zimbabwe stayed with their winning team.

Afghanistan again won the toss and decided to bat, despite their disaster doing so in Friday. They obviously decided to revert to their natural game after the failure of their timid batting in that match.

Mohammad Shahzad showed that he has regained his confidence as he cracked the first ball of the match, from Tendai Chatara, through extra cover for four. However, he took a wild swing at the third delivery and got an inside edge that went for four past the keeper.

With Noor Ali Zadran also driving a four, 13 runs came off the first over. The bowlers soon tightened up, though, with Richard Ngarava accurate from the start.

Shahzad on 13 had a narrow escape as he miscued a drive on the off side and only just managed to clear Sean Williams at cover. He was looking particularly dangerous when Ngarava produced a superb delivery — perhaps the ball of the series — from bowling left-arm over the wicket, which jagged right back through the gate and knocked his off stump completely out of the ground.

Shahzad had made 20 off 20 balls, and Afghanistan were 33 for one in the sixth over. Chatara lost his accuracy again, and Zadran took advantage with 10 off an over, the ninth, bringing up the fifty in the process.

Ngarava struck back, though, with a good-length ball that trapped Gulbadin Naib lbw for six; 56 for two in the 10th over.

Captain Graeme Cremer kept Chatara on for too long, and his six overs went for 45 runs.

The Zimbabwean efforts were also marred by several fumbles in the field.

Chris Mpofu replaced Chatara, but Zadran took two boundaries off him, too, before he tried to pull a ball to leg but only managed to sky a catch to midwicket. He made 46 off 49 balls and the score was 85 for three after 15 overs.

Asghar Stanikzai joined Rahmat Shah, who was batting soundly, and the pair brought up the hundred in the 19th over.

The pair concentrated mainly on accumulation as Zimbabwe tightened up with their spinners, until at 124 in the 26th over when Sean Williams trapped Stanikzai lbw on the back foot for 18.

Shah and Samiullah Shenwari put on a sound partnership of 35 in 11 overs before Shenwari called for a quick single to midwicket which Shah rejected, the result being that Shenwari was run out for 18; 159 for five in the 37th over.

Shah cruised to an impressive fifty off 79 balls, but did not face another ball, as a mix-up over another risky single with Mohammad Nabi left him stranded and run out at the bowler’s end. He made exactly 50 and the score was 172 for six after 40 overs.

Shortly afterwards Nabi hit a huge six off Williams clear over the media centre at long-on, probably the biggest hit of the series. He followed it with a hit off Cremer that only just failed to carry for six over extra cover.

Najibullah Zadran tried to emulate his big hitting, but instead was caught on the midwicket boundary for three; 189 for seven in the 43rd over, and the advantage was sliding towards Zimbabwe.

Ngarava returned for his final spell, but began it badly, bowling too short and being deservedly punished for 13 runs, including two wides, in his first over, Nabi bringing up the 200 for his team.

Zimbabwe were unable to maintain their grip on the innings, and there was some indifferent bowling and fielding in the final overs.

Nabi fell for 48, off 40 balls, in the 49th over, as he tried to swing a ball from Mpofu for six, but holed out to long-leg; 233 for eight.

The partnership between Nabi and Rashid Khan had added 44 in 5.3 overs and swung the advantage back to Afghanistan.

Off the final ball of the over Khan was unhappy to be given out caught down the leg side for 18; 237 for nine.

In the final over Dawlat Zadran hit a long hop from Chatara for six over long-off and then slashed two fours to bring up the 250.

The innings finished in black comedy for Zimbabwe, as Zadran slashed at a short ball that went through to the keeper, and two run-out opportunities were missed as the batsmen dithered, ran, went back and finally completed a bye.

The final total was 253 for nine, with Zadran not out with 14; there were three wickets to Mpofu and two to Ngarava, but on the whole the pacemen had not been impressive, except for Ngarava in his opening spell.

This was the highest total of the series and, given Zimbabwe’s nervy performance in both bowling and fielding, Afghanistan could consider themselves favourites to win.

There was a large and vibrant crowd, and they were disappointed by the close of the Afghan innings.

During the lunch interval rain arrived suddenly and heavily.  Within minutes there were large puddles on the ground, and the ground staff were out on the field in the rain trying to ensure that the water on the covers did not run off into the already vulnerable areas; they were helped by some of the Afghan team.

Eventually, after intensive cleaning-up operations, it was decided that play could restart at 4.15, with Zimbabwe’s target adjusted to 161 off 22 overs, an extremely difficult target on a field that had taken much rain.

The ground was about half-full of enthusiastic spectators when Zimbabwe commenced their chase.

PJ Moor found timing the ball very difficult, and in the second over he attempted a big hit in frustration, only to lob a catch into the covers for thre, off the toe of his bat.

Solomon Mire (2) came down the pitch to try to force away the spinner, Amir Hamza, but edged a catch to the keeper; five for two.

Difficult became ever closer to impossible, as Craig Ervine, trying for a desperately needed boundary, could not time a pull to leg and was caught near the square-leg boundary for four; 11 for three in the fifth over. Williams fell to the first ball he faced, playing a reverse sweep straight into the hands of a fielder; 13 for four now.

With such a difficult target before them in conditions less favourable to the batsmen, Zimbabwe’s players had no opportunity to adjust to these conditions but were forced to hit out prematurely, and this proved fatal.

Ryan Burl hit the first boundary, through the covers, in the seventh over across the heavy outfield.

However, he fell for 11, trying for another hit through the off side, but instead top-edging a catch to backward point, and the score was 29 for five in the eighth over. Musakanda (7) followed next, hammering a ball into the covers, for Najibullah Zadran to take a brilliant flying catch, diving to his left in spectacular style.

When he hit the ground, however, the ball came out of his grasp, but the umpires controversially decided to allow the catch anyway; the score was now 30 for six. This became 38 for seven when Malcolm Waller was adjudged lbw to Nabi for eight, in the 10th over. Chatara was bowled by Rashid Khan’s sharply-turning googly without scoring, and Mpofu (3) fell the same way at 51 for nine. Finally Ngarava edged a ball from Naib to slip without scoring, and Zimbabwe were all out for 54 within 14 overs.

Cremer put up a good fight for 14 not out, but, even when the almost farcical circumstances are taken into account, a total of 54 was still a poor effort for the Zimbabwe team, which had failed to perform to their best standard in all departments of the game in this vital match.

The spin bowlers did the damage for Afghanistan, with three wickets each to Hamza and Nabi, and two to Khan.

Mini Scorecard:

Afghanistan – 253 for 9 in 50 overs (Rahmat Shah 50, Mohammad Nabi 48, Noor Ali Zadran 46; Chris Mpofu 3/46, Richard Ngarava 2/37)

Zimbabwe – 54 all out in 13.5 overs (Graeme Cremer 14*, Ryan Burl 11; Mohammad Nabi 3/14, Amir Hamza 3/20, Rashid Khan 2/8)

Afghanistan won by 106 runs (Duckworth-Lewis)