Mohammad Shahzad displayed trademark brute force and incredible timing in his record-breaking ton to lead Afghanistan to a comfortable 81-run win against Zimbabwe in the second T20I in Sharjah. The victory secured Afghanistan’s second 2-0 series win against Zimbabwe in under three months. Shahzad clobbered and pummeled his way to a 67-ball 118, which became the highest individual score from an Associate nation in T20Is and fourth overall. By the time he was done, Zimbabwe were not only deflated but had also conceded a mammoth 215.
Shahzad got stuck into the medium-pacers as well as the spinners after a slow start. That the next highest contribution after Shahzad’s blitzkrieg was Mohammad Nabi’s brisk 22, was symbolic of the ascendancy he possessed over Zimbabwe’s helpless bowling attack. With each hit, he demonstrated a different form of domination that left the congregated Sharjah crowd gasping for more. Shahzad picked the midwicket area and peppered it regularly with brutish pulls and slog-sweeps. Within 14 overs, he reached his century and had virtually batted Zimbabwe out of the series.
The Afghanistan innings began in amateurish fashion – a lot of shots yielding not many runs. Both Shahzad and Usman Ghani looked to hit the cover off the ball, and thereby lost their shape and failed to find any timing. The first five overs produced 30.
However, spin was soon introduced as the field spread after the Powerplay but Shahzad stuck to his own technique. It hardly mattered whether Shahzad danced down the pitch, went deep in the crease or got down on one knee after a premediated shuffle across. Afghanistan had 59, and Shahzad had 50 of those. He connected with most of his sweeps and swipes, and his muscular domination did the rest as sixes were launched over the boundary with enviable ease.
Zimbabwe’s bowlers hardly helped themselves by repeatedly landing deliveries in Shahzad’s hitting arc. Under duress, yorkers were attempted but were dispatched after ending up as low full-tosses. Graeme Cremer went around the wicket to try and take the ball away from the right-hander. Shahzad shuffled across, bent down on one knee and slog-swept him either to or over the midwicket boundary. Runs were spewing and Zimbabwe’s bowlers had no answers. Shahzad tucked and guided two successive balls to get the three required to take him to another ton, and the joy was evident in his celebration as he removed his helmet and did the sajda.
In the rare event when the bowlers created opportunities, the fielders let them down. At least three chances were spilled, including two of Shahzad – one a hard running catch at long-on was parried to the boundary and another a sitter by wicketkeeper Richmond Mutumbami, who failed to get much glove on a skier. Shahzad was given another reprieve in the 16th over, on 101. Nabi called him through for a quick single but Shahzad had failed to make his ground at the striker’s end when the bails were whipped off. The third umpire was not called in to adjudicate.
Shahzad had already laid the platform for the other batsmen to launch from the get-go. Despite many struggling for timing, each batsman, barring Ghani, boasted a strike-rate over 130 and struck at least one boundary.
Zimbabwe, who have never won a T20 series comprising more than one game, were never really in the hunt from the start of the chase. Save Hamilton Masakadza, the rest of the top six contributed a total of five runs, as Zimbabwe slumped to 34 for 5 in the sixth over. Mutumbami and Sikandar Raza were comfortably stumped off deliveries that slid in with the arm and sneaked through the inside edge. Malcolm Waller misjudged a skidder and captain Elton Chigumbura was run-out after naughtily looking for a run during an lbw appeal. The chase was done.
Masakadza and Peter Moor combined well to prove that run-scoring on this wicket was not a one-way street. The pair displayed a range of strokes and almost found a boundary every over, even as the required run rate touched 20. Masakadza, who has been Zimbabwe’s best batsman on the tour, looked comfortable for the duration of his stay, and found boundaries frequently. He lofted a Dawlat Zadran delivery with such splendid timing that it left the ground over the midwicket boundary, which was the six that took him past Chigumbura for most sixes in T20Is from a Zimbabwe batsman.
Masakadza struck his eighth T20 fifty, but it barely had any impact on the game. By the time he was bowled for 63, an innings that featured two fours and five sixes, Zimbabwe still required 102 from 26 balls. The lower order could not achieve much, and slogged their way into the hands of fielders. Zimbabwe’s misery was ended when a casual Tendai Chisoro was run out after failing to ground his bat despite making his ground.
(Nikhil Kalro is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo)