Battered Afghanistan seek immediate boost
Monday, January 4, 2016
Start time 1500 local (1100GMT)
Zimbabwe were desperate for a performance that yielded a win to keep the series alive, but were well on their way to another disheartening defeat in the third ODI before two batsmen resorted to attrition and simple basics to provide them with a platform for a morale-boosting victory. Zimbabwe's bowlers would have entered the bout ready to grind out a positive result, but were handed wickets on a platter through some amateurish strokes from Afghanistan's batsmen. Through a host of wickets and impressive individual batting performances, one discernible pattern has stood out this series - the start of an innings sets the tone for the rest of the game.
Zimbabwe, given their relative experience, will have to strive to improve in that aspect to dominate lower-ranked nations. Hamilton Masakadza displayed admirable patience amid an evolving ODI format, and the rest of the batsmen will do well to try and replicate his coup on surfaces demanding extra vigilance. Saturday also proved that the seamers possessed penetrative ability but were aided and abetted by a good start and Afghanistan's questionable approach. Luke Jongwe persisted on good areas and was richly rewarded with a five-for. The bowling line-up, however, has come under severe pressure under a semblance of duress. In conditions where a shoddy period can define the game, can the Zimbabwe bowlers hold their own when the going gets tough?
Afghanistan have had a lot to be proud about after a successful 2015, including a win at the World Cup, but they will have to reconsider their gung-ho attitude with the bat. Save an exceptional counterattacking innings from Mohammad Shahzad and Noor Ali Zadran's stability, their batting has been fallacious. With plenty of time available, the middle order has to prepare themselves to build innings and scores of respectability. The bowling core, though, has enough variation, control and quality to trouble many an opposition. On paper, man for man, Afghanistan's bowling has the edge over their counterparts but consistency will be imperative to their success.
(Last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
The Afghanistan openers - Mohammad Shahzad and Noor Ali - have each provided an innings of substance, directly affecting the result of the game. With a lack of confidence running through a fumbling middle order, a solid start could go a long way to ensuring the final game of the series is not a decider.
Hamilton Masakadza has brought in an air of security to Zimbabwe's batting order, with steady scores of 47 and 83, but has also importantly combined in strong stands that have perked up the final totals. His potential to build a score and play at two paces could also come to the fore, providing the rest of the batsmen with an example of adaptation.
Craig Ervine missed the third ODI with the flu, but expect him to slot right back in at No. 4 if he is fit, which could mean that Malcolm Waller, who has scores of 0, 0 and 8, makes way. There is likely to be no changes in the bowling attack that bowled Afghanistan out for 58.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Peter Moor, Chamu Chibhabha, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Craig Ervine, 5 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Richmond Mutumbami(wk), 8 Luke Jongwe, 9 Graeme Creamer, 10, Neville Madziva, 11 Tendai Chisoro
Afghanistan chose to test some of the other members of their 21-man squad, but none of those inclusions made a substantial impact to the proceedings in the last match. The think-tank could juggle the set-up again in order to find the ideal balance.
Afghanistan (probable) : 1 Noor Ali Zadran, 2 Mohammad Shahzad, 3 Mohammad Nabi, 4 Asghar Stanikzai, 5 Samiullah Shenwari, 6 Hashmatullah Shahidi, 7 Najibullah Zadran, 8 Mirwais Ashraf, 9 Dawlat Zadran, 10 Amir Hamza, 11 Rokhan Barakzai/Rashid Khan
Pitch and conditions
Expect the team winning the toss to bat first in conditions that have proved harder to bat as the game progresses. The low and slow pitches of Sharjah will continue to take plenty of turn, and provide just enough to keep the seamers interested under lights. Rain was predicted on the day before the game, but none on match day.
Stats and trivia
- Before the third ODI, Afghanistan had won five of the previous six ODIs against Zimbabwe
- The third ODI was the only time in ODI history that both innings had scores of 0 for 2
Nikhil Kalro is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo