Afghanistan v Zimbabwe, 5th ODI, Sharjah January 6, 2016

Naib heroics lift Afghanistan to thrilling series win

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Afghanistan 254 for 8 (Naib 82*, Shahidi 31, Jongwe 3-50) beat Zimbabwe 248 (Masakadza 110, Moor 42, Hamza 3-41) by two wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

The Afghanistan players soak in the celebrations after their historic series win © Chris Whiteoak

Gulbadin Naib played the most important innings of his international career to hand Afghanistan a sensational comeback win that not only lifted them to their second 3-2 series win against Zimbabwe, but also ensured the team broke into the top 10 in the ODI rankings.

Naib, who played his last ODI in February 2015, struck his first international fifty, and exhibited a calm demeanor and splendid stroke-making ability to guide Afghanistan to the 249 target with two wickets and two balls to spare. Naib's heroics overshadowed Hamilton Masakadza's, who compiled his fourth ODI century with staggering ease and a brisk strike rate too.

The contest swung one way and then the next towards the last few overs of the chase. When Naib lost his ally Rashid Khan in the 48th over, he was forced to rethink his strategy with the tail. The match hung in the balance till the last over, when 10 runs were needed. Naib found an edged boundary to third man and after brace of twos, Afghanistan had leveled the score. Naib proceeded to thump the next ball - low full toss - to the roof of the stand at square leg, sparking wild celebrations among the Afghanistan players and staff.

Such was the state of the thrilling contest that even with five overs to go, it was anybody's game. Afghanistan needed 46 with four wickets in hand. The 46th over, given to Neville Madziva, proved to be the game changer. Madziva missed his length and offered Naib two full tosses, both of which were heaved to the leg side boundary. That over cost Zimbabwe 16 runs, the momentum, and as would eventually turn out, the series. Although Madziva bounced back with two wickets in his next over, it proved too little and slightly too late.

Defeat would have especially hurt Zimbabwe as they seemed to have the match wrapped up when Asghar Stanikzai was sixth man out with 104 needed off 93 balls on a slow wicket. However, Naib and Rashid got together to tip the contest in Afghanistan's favour. It was the Zimbabwe's bowlers turn to crumble under the pressure as Naib swiped low full tosses to the leg-side boundary and the seamers missed their attempted yorkers.

Afghanistan's openers Mohammad Shahzad and Noor Ali Zadran continued to show their form in contrasting manner. While Shahzad used his muscular prowess to bash boundaries over the infield, Noor Ali used deft touch, timing and placement to scythe fours through the fielders. Nonetheless, both found the boundaries with regularity to get Afghanistan ahead of the asking rate with a brisk stand of 49.

But as had been the case throughout the series, the ball dominated the bat under lights after the end of the first Powerplay. Luke Jongwe made the first incision with a ripper, one that ducked back in just enough to rattle Shahzad's stumps. Noor Ali got another start before being drawn into a false stroke, as he top-edged a sharp bouncer to fine leg. Afghanistan's main men were dismissed and a tricky chase got even harder. Jongwe was the wrecker-in-chief again.

Unlike the first innings, seam and spin combined well to swell the required rate. Although assisted by significant movement off the pitch, the Zimbabwe bowlers initially found the right areas to beat the bat frequently. Mohammad Nabi and Hashmatullah Shahidi strung together a 55-run stand but the pressure of the chase resulted in both their wickets, in the space of four balls. Graeme Cremer first went through Nabi's inside edge to trap him in front and then Sikandar Raza had Shahidi bowled with a slider. When Raza slid another one through to have Asghar Stanikzai caught behind, Afghanistan not only had to repair the damage, they had to first plug the leak. Thankfully for the hosts, Naib managed to do both with equal aplomb.

Earlier, it was Masakadza's experience and patience that transformed Zimbabwe's batting, propelling the team to 248. Such was the impact of Masakadza's 111-ball 110 that Zimbabwe had hoped for a score close to 280 at one stage. However, Afghanistan's bowlers bounced back in the death overs after a slapdash middle period.

As was expected from the start, run-scoring proved to be hard, but Afghanistan had themselves to blame with a discernibly sloppy period in the middle. Half-volleys, long-hops and full tosses were dispatched with ease and catches were spilled.

Masakadza, in particular, cashed in on many such run-scoring opportunities, forcing spinners off their lengths with powerful sweeps and efficient utilization of the depth of the crease. His strike-rate for the most part hovered around 100 as he ensured the bowlers struggled to string together dot balls.

Peter Moor and Richmond Mutumbami also benefited from Masakadza's pyrotechnics and were allowed to play valuable cameos in their own fashion. Moor employed a block-launch approach, while Mutumbami used the slog sweep to pile on the misery, including one that left the ground over the midwicket boundary off Hamza in the 30th over.

Mutumbami's dismissal, though, elicited an Afghanistan comeback. Afghanistan's bowlers quickly found their lengths and were rewarded with results. All the lower order could do was huff and puff their way to Zimbabwe's second-highest score of the series.

Nikhil Kalro is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Javiar87 on January 10, 2016, 21:09 GMT

    Afghanistan has a long way to go .... winning against a weak Zim team doesn't prove they are ready to join big league. Bangladesh exposed Afghanistan's batting ability in WC 2015. That showed how far they have to go. Yes they have a better bowling attack than ZIM and slightly aggressive batting style (Hit or Miss). But that won't be enough to survive. From India.

  • Zain_Khan1996 on January 8, 2016, 15:39 GMT

    @Nehru. How was the Zimbabwe team performing before Whatmore?

  • JohnSnider on January 8, 2016, 7:16 GMT

    Afghanistan boys are tough and soon they would be challenging world class teams. Let Imran Khan Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi give them tips.

  • Nehru_Roger on January 8, 2016, 5:04 GMT

    It's Dav Whatmore who is ruining the performance of ZIM because of his extensive experiment. Under his coaching ZIm has seen a lot of changes in a single squad within a short period of time which is not a good sign for any team who is going through transition. I hope ZIM will come back strongly. AFG have to go long way to match Top 10. They need to put their feet on the ground. I hope AFG will not run out of fuel like IRE or Kenya. Both team have shown mediocre performance in this series. Neither of the team is as good as TOP 10. Anyway Congratulation AFG and Good Luck ZIM.

  • binukani on January 8, 2016, 4:53 GMT

    Chigumbara should take a leaf out of Amla`s book......

  • Cricinfouser on January 7, 2016, 15:14 GMT

    Zim is a better side,i think they are just having issues with their team and Economy!!!...Afghan still have a long way to GO guys....They still need to work on their Bowling...Their bowling is very very very poor...They also need to work a bit on their batting..Its still early for Afghan to have a test status.... But all the same...... Congrats Afghan...that's a good way of making Way.. I wonder why Zim is reserving Panyangara as the 12th man always...Zim lacked the touch of Panyangara. Great Batting from Hamilton Masakadza.

  • ubaidmasoody on January 7, 2016, 13:54 GMT

    well done both teams. more than Zimbabwe having regressed, It's Afghanistan which has improved.

  • newgraahm on January 7, 2016, 13:31 GMT

    Zimbabwes batting never reached the area of what is considered a respectable total in ODIs and thats is where the problem essentially lies. The reason sare obvioous playing domestic cricket against club standard opponents with no regular international cricket playing cricket on par with the Afghans is no going improve ones game only stagnate it..It is sad that as a country so close geographically to a major test nation(SA) cannot inflitrate their domestic game with a development team or as individuals to learn the life of the proffessional cricketer in a structured coaching environment that will far exceed any domestic arrangements, under the current franchise system. Sink or Swim , the decision time is very close now!!!

  • Syed Mahirr on January 7, 2016, 12:46 GMT

    Why does Zim play? Just a shame

  • paddynair on January 7, 2016, 12:41 GMT

    Hurrah for Afghanistan ! Afghanistan & Ireland are the most improved people.They are better than Zimbabwe and hence should be allowed to play test matches.Let us have two leagues-top 6 and bottom 6.Of course,two major test playing countries would be relegated,but this adds to the charm !

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