Buoyant Afghanistan return to favourite format
Friday, January 8, 2016
Start time 2000 local (1600GMT)
Over the course of one tour of Zimbabwe and a return series on neutral ground, Afghanistan have notched up a number of firsts: ODI and T20 series wins over a Test-playing opponent, and now a place in the top ten of the ODI ranking list. At the start of the T20 series, they will be full of confidence. After all, they already sit ninth in the T20 rankings, a whole five places above Zimbabwe.
During their tour of Zimbabwe, Afghanistan made a number of changes between the ODI and T20 series, bringing in specialists such as Usman Ghani and Gulbadin Naib. This time around they included Naib in their eleven for the final ODI - with spectacular results - and might make more changes still for the first T20I, with plenty of options in their 21-player squad.
Though they eventually lost the ODI series, Zimbabwe did impressively to draw level from 2-0 down. The inclusion of Neville Madziva gave their seam attack some thrust with the new ball, while their senior players - particularly Hamilton Masakadza and Graeme Cremer - stepped up with some excellent performances at crunch times. Despite Zimbabwe's poor T20 record overall, and though Afghanistan enjoy this format more than any other, this series should be as competitive as the ODIs were.
(Last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
He didn't feature in the ODI series - and hasn't played in that format since the World Cup last year - but Usman Ghani is expected to resume his place at the top of the order in Afghanistan's T20 side. Ghani likes to play his shots, and already has two half-centuries in five T20I innings, including a 45-ball 69 against Zimbabwe in October.
Sikandar Raza had a poor ODI series, with a highest score of 29 in five innings, but that came in the final game, off 23 balls. That little glimpse of form could serve him well, particularly if he moves up the order to open as he usually does in T20 cricket.
Afghanistan tend to play plenty of specialists in the shortest format, and plenty of changes can be expected from the ODI series, with the likes of Usman Ghani and Shafiqullah expected to feature.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Usman Ghani, 3 Mohammad Nabi, 4 Asghar Stanikzai (capt), 5 Gulbadin Naib, 6 Karim Sadiq, 7 Shafiqullah, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Mirwais Ashraf, 10 Dawlat Zadran, 11 Amir Hamza
Sikandar Raza seems likely to move up the order to resume his usual spot in the T20 line-up. The fitness status of Craig Ervine, who scored 73 in the second ODI but hasn't featured since, is not known yet. Malcolm Waller will probably remain in the side if Ervine continues to miss out.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Sikandar Raza, 2 Chamu Chibhabha, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 5 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 6 Malcolm Waller, 7 Peter Moor, 8 Luke Jongwe, 9 Graeme Cremer, 10 Neville Madziva, 11 Tendai Chisoro
Pitch and conditions
Afghanistan chased 249 to win the fifth ODI, but conditions in Sharjah have otherwise favoured the team batting first. An 8pm start, however, should even up the game, with both new-ball attacks likely to get a bit of help under lights.
Stats and trivia
- Afghanistan have won 21 of the 36 T20Is they have played so far, but have only beaten one Test-playing team, Zimbabwe.
- Among batsmen with 500 or more runs in T20Is, Elton Chigumbura is one of only three - Aaron Finch and Darren Sammy are the others - with a strike rate of over 150.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo