Afghanistan 191 for 5 (Usman 65, Naib 56*) beat Zimbabwe 190 for 7 (Williams 54, Mutumbami 43, Dawlat 2-24) by five wickets
Afghanistan sealed another historic first with a 2-0 Twenty20 series victory over Zimbabwe in the second match at Queens Sports Club. Opener Usman Ghani and allrounder Gulbadin Naib led Afghanistan’s charge as they hunted down Zimbabwe’s 190 for 7 with one ball to spare. Ghani weathered a fierce short-ball assault from Zimbabwe’s quicks to rush to his first T20 fifty, and after he departed, Naib picked up where he left off, marshaling the second half of the chase and registering a maiden fifty of his own. Their efforts meant that Sean Williams’ quickfire 54, which equalled the Zimbabwean record for the fastest T20 fifty, went in vain.
Afghanistan needed a good start to their chase, and it seemed that Mohammad Shahzad would lead it when he rushed out at the very first delivery to slash it over cover point for four. Yet it was the 18-year-old Ghani who did most of the scoring as they rushed to 56 at the end of the Powerplay. All three of Zimbabwe’s seamers targeted him repeatedly with the short ball, and though Ghani was made to look uncomfortable he also frequently managed to find the boundary.
He collected three boundaries in Neville Madziva’s first over, all of them off the back foot and one thanks to a top-edged hook that flew high over wicketkeeper Richmond Mutumbami’s head. Another top-edged bouncer in Madziva’s next over brought four more, and Chris Mpofu’s change of ends was greeted with a straight six down the ground before the bowler responded with a barrage of bouncers, one of which almost knocked the young batsman off his feet.
Ghani rushed into the 40s with another six down the ground, this time off left-arm spinner Wellington Masakadza, and when he brought up his fifty – from 32 balls in the eighth over – Shahzad had only just reached 20. Ghani added a third six, off Chamu Chibhabha, but the medium-pacer then nipped out two wickets in two balls to bring Zimbabwe back into the game. It took a tumbling catch at long-off by Madziva to remove Ghani and, with the batsmen having crossed, Chibhabha then deceived Shahzad with a slower ball to trap him lbw for a relatively sedate 24.
That reduced Afghanistan to 95 for 2 at the end of the 11th over, with the required rate already above ten, and Zimbabwe increased their advantage further when Mpofu’s bullet throw from the deep had Mohammad Nabi run-out for 15. With 58 needed from 30 deliveries, Naib, who had been offered a promotion to No. 3, came to the fore.
His strokeplay had more to do with skill and timing than brute force, and he moved into the 30s with a front-foot pull and a delightful paddle-scoop off Madziva, both of which brought fours. Naib added three more of those in one over from Mpofu, again using the scoop shot to great effect, to take the equation down to 23 from the last two overs. Muzarabani’s quick reactions had Karim Sadiq run-out off the final delivery of the penultimate over and Afghanistan needed nine from the last six deliveries, to be bowled by Mpofu.
Shafiqullah struck the decisive blow on his third delivery, sweeping past short fine leg, before he handed the strike over to Naib, who duly chipped the winning runs down the ground with one ball to spare.
Their efforts put Williams’ innings in the shade, though the knock will be remembered for equalling the record set by Elton Chigumbura in the 2014 World T20. Williams faced the third delivery of Zimbabwe’s innings after Chibhabha was cleaned bowled by Dawlat Zadran, and after playing out a wicket maiden he launched an eye-catching counterattack.
Williams was particularly unforgiving on Afghanistan’s spinners, taking 19 runs off Rashid Khan’s first over in an assault that included two reverse sweeps and a slog sweep that put the ball into the trees beyond deep midwicket. Karim Sadiq’s offspin was treated with equal disdain, Williams clobbering two fours and a six in his first over, and Williams reached his fifty from 21 deliveries in the seventh over.
Mutumbami kept Zimbabwe cruising with a succession of slog sweeps, even as Chigumbura’s innings started modestly from the other end. But there was no definitive finish from Zimbabwe, with Afghanistan picking up regular wickets at the death, and yet again Zimbabwe’s runs were not enough to defend.
THE REPORT BY LIAM BRICKHILL