Mohammad Nabi’s maiden one-day international century powered Afghanistan to a series-leveling win in the second ODI against Zimbabwe at Queens Sports Club. Nabi, shunted up the order to No. 3, overcame a few early jitters to raise to his century at close to a run a ball. Most notable was his fearless six hitting, and a couple of his bigger strokes very nearly exited the stadium completely. Backed up by Noor Ali Zadran’s patient 60 and some late hitting from the lower-middle order, Afghanistan raced to 271 for 6 and carried that momentum into the field.
Zimbabwe’s chase stumbled, and then lost its way entirely as Afghanistan’s spinners – including the 17-year-old debutant Rashid Khan – strangled the middle order. Luke Jongwe’s adventurous knock briefly raised Zimbabwe’s hopes, but Dawlat Zadran and Aftab Alam quickly wiped Zimbabwe out with a clinical display of reverse swing death-bowling.
Afghanistan needed far greater application from their top order after their tepid display in the first match, and when captain Asghar Stanikzai called correctly at the toss he once again decided to bat first despite the overcast conditions this morning. Mohammad Shahzad opened the batting in typically bellicose fashion but his early departure in the fifth over, top-edging a flick to leg off Tinashe Panyangara, meant Afghanistan were soon under pressure.
Nabi survived a strong shout for lbw and an edged drive over a leaping Craig Ervine at first slip before he began to settle. Once the shine came off the new ball and the sun burnt through the clouds, conditions eased and Nabi settled into an industriously attacking mode of play. He moved into the 20s by working Zimbabwe’s spinners through the gaps in the outfield, and then broke free with his first six in the 18th over.
That shot, which cleared the sight-screen at the Airport End of the ground with ease, sparked an increase in tempo and Nabi brought up a 59-ball half-century in the 24th over. Noor Ali provided the perfect foil to the more attacking Nabi and reached a half-century of his own before he sliced underneath a loft down the ground to be well caught by Tendai Chisoro.
Nabi continued undeterred, and John Nyumbu was clubbed for three massive sixes over deep midwicket, wide long-on and straight down the ground as he reached his century from the 105th delivery he faced, in the 40th over. Then came the biggest shot of the day as Nabi set himself at the crease and crunched left-arm spinner Wellington Masakadza for a towering blow straight down the ground that bounced onto the roof of the three-storey building at the City End.
Afghanistan were past 200 by then, but fatigue was beginning to set in for Nabi and he perished to a tired-looking stroke off Chisoro that was pouched by Chamu Chibhabha at wide long-on. But Stanikzai and Samiullah Shenwari ensured his good work was not undone and in a late flourish Afghanistan added 76 runs in the last ten overs, with 47 of those coming in the last five.
The pitch certainly seemed a good one for batting, and Richmond Mutumbami used the slog sweep to good effect when Afghanistan turned to spin in the early stages of Zimbabwe’s chase. The shot eventually brought about his downfall but Tino Mutombodzi, promoted to no. 4, and Craig Ervine kept Zimbabwe ticking over with a 52-run partnership for the third wicket.
It was then that Afghanistan’s spinners came to the fore, first strangling the scoring rate and then cutting through Zimbabwe’s middle order. Mutombodzi fell to Amir Hamza’s left-arm spin and Shenwari then got rid of Ervine – to a sharp caught and bowled – and Sikandar Raza as Zimbabwe slipped to 123 for 5 in the 30th over.
That soon became 143 for 6 when legspinner Rashid Khan, who buzzed right through his first spell in international cricket, got rid of Chisoro and Zimbabwe were in danger of being bowled out for under 200 before Jongwe’s late blitz. As Zimbabwe started to threaten a fightback, Stanikzai brought his seamers back on and Zimbabwe’s tail collapsed in the face of Dawlat Zadran and Aftab Alam’s clever use of reverse swing. Afghanistan surged to a 58-run victory in the 47th over, breathing new life into this series after the hosts’ one-sided victory in the first match.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town