Afghanistan v Zimbabwe, 1st T20, Sharjah January 8, 2016

Afghanistan hold nerve to clinch high-scoring thriller

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Afghanistan 187 for 7 (Ghani 42, Naib 37, Cremer 3-17) beat Zimbabwe 182 for 7 (Waller 49*, Dawlat 3-32) by five runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Mohammad Shahzad's 63-run opening stand with Usman Ghani set the base for Afghanistan's imposing 187 © Chris Whiteoak

Both sides were far from their best on the field. While that didn't translate into a high standard of cricket, it made for an entertaining clash nonetheless. The end result was a last-ball finish, with two metres and a fine low catch by Gulbadin Naib separating both sides as Afghanistan held their nerve to outclass Zimbabwe by five runs in the first T20I in Sharjah.

But the catch wasn't Naib's only contribution in the match. His cameo of 37 and a 52-run stand for the fifth wicket with Mohammad Nabi gave Afghanistan the impetus they needed after a middle order slump orchestrated by Graeme Cremer, who picked up three wickets. Afghanistan blasted 66 off the last five overs to finish with 187 for 7. It nearly didn't prove enough.

With 60 needed off the last five overs, Zimbabwe were in with a slim chance. Malcolm Waller swung his way to more runs in this innings alone than he had done in the preceding ODI series, while Elton Chigumbura found his hitting range to bring it down to 21 off the last over. Asghar Stanikzai's decision to keep his premier pacer Dawlat Zadran worked, but by only just. His end figures of 3 for 32 were far more flattering in the overall context, but the scorecard wouldn't reveal how he nearly finished second-best on the night.

He was lucky to get away with two high full tosses that were called no-ball, to give Zimbabwe two free-hits, which they couldn't take full toll of. One of them even accounted for Chigumbura's run-out as he was scampering back for the second. What followed was total pandemonium. But with 16 needed off four, Luke Jongwe muscled a six and a four to bring it down to six off two. Then came a close call, with Dawlat flirting with the wide line.

With six needed off the final ball, Jongwe carved one over the infield only for Naib to, quite fittingly, take the catch at the deep-cover boundary to end the heart-stopping thriller. In the end, Zimbabwe were left wondering what could have been had they held their chances that would have ensured they didn't have to chase these many.

Mohammad Shahzad was dropped by Chamu Chibhabha at deep midwicket off the third ball to deny debutant Donald Tiripano a wicket Shortly after, Masakadza was caught in a brain freeze as his decision to run towards the stumps instead of lobbing a throw to the wicketkeeper resulted in Usman Ghani a reprieve. The result of the two misses cost Zimbabwe 33 and 42 respectively, which set them a solid base for a blaze at the end.

But Cremer wasn't giving up. The classical legspinner used his height and clever use of angles to generate bounce and beat the batsmen with his dip. The end result was magical figures of 4-0-17-3 that briefly caused a few flutters in the Afghanistan camp as they slipped from 62 without loss to 105 for 4. But Tendai Chisoro, the left-arm spinner, and Raza, the part-time offspinner, failed to create the same impact Cremer had.

While Chisoro kept firing them in, only for Nabi and Naib to get underneath the ball and hit them cleanly, Raza fed them with long hops that were dispatched. When their partnership, that gave the innings a power-boost ended with Chisoro sending back Nabi, the mood in the Zimbabwe camp spelt relief.

There wasn't an iota of doubt that this would be a difficult chase. The loss of two early wickets, both to Dawlat, gave Afghanistan an early advantage. But Hamilton Masakadza and Richmond Mutumbami then came out swinging as Afghanistan's bowlers repeatedly missed their lengths. The result was Zimbabwe wiping out 95 runs in 11 overs.

But the pressure of the asking rate and some tight bowling by the spinners following Masakadza's downfall to a reverse sweep for 33 allowed Afghanistan a foot in the door. Sikandar Raza and Waller then continued to keep the fight going. Aiding them along the way was some heavy dew and some poor death bowling as Zimbabwe managed to find the boundaries with regularity.

Waller cashed in on Rashid Khan's inexperience by targeting the short midwicket boundaries. Yet there was a lingering feeling that Zimbabwe were just a wicket away from being squeezed out of the contest. But they did well to hang in till the very end courtesy Jongwe's two blows that could have been decisive, but Afghanistan did remarkably well to hold their own under pressure to eke out a win that could have a galvanising effect on them.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • DanishAnwar on January 10, 2016, 11:31 GMT

    why was dawlat zardan not removed after balling two chest-high full-tosses ? Has the rule changed ? I don't remember the commentators saying anything about that either

  • Afgun_Mujahid on January 9, 2016, 21:20 GMT

    @JW76 I understand your feelings as a fan but you got no excuse against the dismissal of H Masakadza it was clear cut rewind if you the recording. in the last over the umpire should have warned dawlat he didn't it happens it's not a big deal in fact it was in Zim favour to have two free hits. I think if Zim as a whole played their game properly you could've won rather than to argue about umpire decision. your team lost it for you now blame the umpire, try better in the next one and don't rely on umpire

  • jw76 on January 9, 2016, 17:41 GMT

    More weak umpires! I am disgusted that they allow sledging on the field and the batsman) Masakadza) had to appeal to them before they did a thing. And in the final over, were they too scared of the partisan crowd to do justice for Zimbabwe? I hope the Zimbabwean management has the means to report the situation to the ICC, but that organization is not famed for strong action either. The message seems to be that sledging is winked at on the field of play until it becomes physical - as in the case of Anderson v Jadeja a couple of years ago, a situation that would not have occurred had the umpires in that match had any guts.

  • HDG1978 on January 9, 2016, 16:39 GMT

    Another feather in the cap for Afghanistan,which has shown the ability to win close matches in their recent twin series against Zimbabwe.This experience will hold them in good stead as they move ahead in international cricket.The rise of Bangladesh as an ODI team in 2015 and now the elevation of Afghanistan to No.10 in ODI rankings at the expense of Zimbabwe has gladdened my heart as a fan of Asian cricket. The fall in Zimbabwe's cricketing standards and their recent depressing results barring the odd ODI or T20I win against India,NZ and Pakistan has been as disappointing for me as a neutral fan as the free fall in WI cricket has saddened me.Hope Afghanistan grows in stature but at the same time want Zimbabwe to do well.A team featuring Masakadza, Chigumbura,Cremer and Williams with the ever improving Raza,Madziva and Chibhabha are certainly not short of talent,but somehow appear to be found wanting as an unit in crossing the line and convert individual match wins into series triumphs.

  • justov on January 9, 2016, 16:05 GMT

    well done Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, mmmmm, old-new board Chairman, same old result, run out of excuses

  • wpbus13 on January 9, 2016, 14:14 GMT

    Even with Dav Whatmore as coach Zimbabwe cricket seems to be at a standstill; they are simply not progressing. They should be much farther along by now. Their inconsistent level of play is almost embarrassing! Afghanistan need to work on their fitness level (frankly a couple of players are overweight), like most sub-continental teams this aspect of their game has always been lacking. Is Inzaman-ul-Haq their coach? Now, that is a problem! Lol!

  • Afgun_Mujahid on January 9, 2016, 14:07 GMT

    @soundtrack Can't agree more with about asghar, nawroz and Karim they must willingly retire and let the young talent take the team forward. they are dragging the team down. Look at the last ODIs and the T20 the team batting collapses due senior players but the juniors Hamza, naib and rashid khan who make the huge difference.

  • IAS2009 on January 9, 2016, 14:05 GMT

    England dropped 9 catches in SA second innings, which standard we are talking about, these teams are not top level teams but some times it is a bad day, loosing teams mostly have horrible day in field. The standard of fielding has gone up very high at every level but still off days happens.

  • Cricinfouser on January 9, 2016, 13:15 GMT

    I think some of the players has to be retired for good and i mean for good. Karim sediq Nawroz mangal, Asghar stankz has rough form at the moment, but he shown good performance in the past, although he has to loose some weight, its a shame to look like that when u are a sportsman, atleast even for cricket, u have to look abit better in shape! Still i just see a couple of guys who stands in the creas as a batsman, the batting coach needs to show them some batting technic. they look like lastman batsman , most of them

  • Hamid79 on January 9, 2016, 10:35 GMT

    I must say it was excellent batting both sides and bad bowling both sides... but, i guess a deserved victory for Afghanistan... Nothing to disappoint about for Zimbabwe... this is just that they are facing a team full of surprises and taller made for T20

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