Afghanistan v Zimbabwe, 2nd ODI, Sharjah December 29, 2015

Shahzad's record ton helps Afghanistan to 2-0 lead

Afghanistan 254 for 6 (Shahzad 131*, Chigumbura 3-32) beat Zimbabwe 253 for 7 (Ervine 73, Moor 50, Dawlat 3-57) by four wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Mohammad Shahzad's 131* became the highest score for an Afghanistan batsman in ODIs © Chris Whiteoak

Afghanistan's batting can be a bit like a teenager. Impulsive and reckless, with a tendency to play to the gallery when they should play the situation. But 2015 has witnessed their coming of age and they signed the year off with a victory that was built on a level-headed chase and their ability to withstand pressure when it came. Afghanistan ran down 254 with 14 balls in the bank and a top-order batsman out in the middle as Mohammad Shahzad recorded the highest score for his team in ODIs - 131 not out off 133 balls.

Afghanistan will savour going 2-0 up, but they suffered a bit of stage fright as they came near the target. The Sharjah fans had begun thinking of an early finish and a lengthy party. Zimbabwe had been pushed to the limit and nothing had worked. Elton Chigumbura, who had bowled only twice since March 2015, was forced to bring himself on. It was a last throw of the dice.

Four balls in, Mohammad Nabi was run out. First ball of Chigumbura's third over took out Asghar Stanikzai and the last ball of his fourth over trumped Samiullah Shenwari. Afghanistan had cobbled together only 30 runs in nine overs until the 40th, and they went into the final 10 without the big-hitting Najibullah Zadran, yet another Chigumbura victim.

A scoreline that read 169 for 1 became 198 for 6, but Shahzad was still there and he proved the difference. He has mirrored Afghanistan's growth as a batting unit. The brain freezes of the past gave way to an innings of poise and control. His power was hidden away until he was well set enough to minimise the risk in those heaves over the leg side. He trundled through the Powerplay and emerged from the first 10 overs with only three fours. He reached his fifty with a six, but was still accumulating at less than a run a ball. The problem for Zimbabwe was that he had been out there for 19 overs - ample time to understand a slow and low Sharjah pitch and assess the opposition's biggest threats.

Shahzad got into the nineties having taken 41 runs off his last 39 balls. He finished with seven fours and eight sixes, the most by a batsman from an Associate nation in ODIs. The path to his hundred was painstaking - he spent almost six overs getting the final six runs and burst into a memorable celebration full of fist pumping and bat waving.

Zimbabwe's bowlers had done well to keep him quiet in that time, but they needed to take him out and the good work they themselves had done with the bat went in vain. They had to tackle the same pitch on which they made the lowest total by a Full Member against an Associate nation in ODI history. There were two marked differences from the record-breaking events of Christmas Day, though.

Zimbabwe were chasing when Afghanistan's spinners bundled them out for 82. Today, Chigumbura called correctly at the toss and helped his team avoid scoreboard pressure and the complication of batting under lights. And given the best conditions to bat in, Zimbabwe's 11th opening pair in 31 ODIs made a promising start.

In Peter Moor and Richmond Mutumbami's care, only two of the first 10 overs did not feature a boundary. They took the score to 71 for 0 with sound planning and skillful execution. Moor for example, harvested half of his runs through and over mid-off, including two of his three sixes, to secure his maiden ODI fifty at a strike rate of 100.

But the ball began to age after 15 overs and it was stopping on the batsman off a good length. Afghanistan picked up on that and trusted the experienced Nabi to turn things around. He did so with a beautifully crafted trap that turned the batsman's strength against him. Moor had been eager to drive all day, so Nabi tossed the ball up wider, Moor lunged forward and his back leg left the safety of his crease, Nabi beat the outside edge, Shahzad completed the stumping.

Five balls later, debutant left-arm spinner Rokhan Barakzai had Mutumbami caught and bowled and Afghanistan had effectively reset the match. Zimbabwe were up for it thanks to Ervine's resourcefulness and helpful cameo from the returning Hamilton Masakadza.

They were able to keep up the pace simply by using the pace offered to them. Ervine was so prolific at it that he found 39 of his 73 runs behind the wicket. And as an added bonus, his use of sweeps and reverse sweeps kept the pressure on the Afghanistan spinners. Masakadza was also quick to understand that his power game has a lesser chance of success of a slow, low Sharjah pitch. So he found 29 of his 47 runs through singles, and in doing so ensured Ervine took a lot of the strike. Their third-wicket partnership put 98 risk-free runs, barring one occasion when Williams could have been stumped on 43, and gave Zimbabwe's lower order the freedom to play without worrying about wickets falling. In the end, they were still 20 runs short.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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