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'I actually had tears in my eyes'

Chris Mpofu: 'The problem was fear of failure. I used to think that when I played, if I didn't do well in one game, I would lose my place for the next one but now I've let go of that' AFP

"It's one of those days when you get back to your hotel room and you don't know what happened."

Chris Mpofu was still in a daze, more than two hours after Zimbabwe completed one of the greatest heists in their cricketing history. They beat Afghanistan by three runs and went from staring at a third successive series defeat to an Associate nation to plucking five wickets for five runs and successfully defending what looked like an utterly inadequate total of 129.

Or maybe its the opposition who returned to their dwelling unsure of what happened.

After their win in the first game and the second, members of the Afghan squad supposedly informed the receptionists at the Holiday Inn, where both teams are staying, of their success. But after the third?

"The people at the front desk said they came in and just walked past without saying anything," Mpofu, who made a point of asking the hotel staff whether the Afghans had relayed news of the day's event, said to ESPNcricinfo. "I don't think they could believe it. We also can't believe it. It was just amazing."

At 114 for 5, with 24 overs still at their disposal, Afghanistan were in complete control. Seamer Mpofu, who had come on six overs earlier, had resigned himself to performing the last rites. "I was only brought on in the 21st over and I thought to myself that this is just to finish things off," he said.

His first over cost six runs, his second went for four and his third, which came after Afghanistan had lost their fifth wicket, also had four runs scored off it. Things were happening at a predictably pedestrian pace until Mohammed Nabi smoked the first ball of Mpofu's fourth over for six. The veteran quick has begun to pride himself on maintaining a low economy rate so he wasn't happy that he was the one being punished. "One thing I am really trying for now is consistency and I have been doing well in the last few matches," he said.

Nabi glanced the next ball to the leg side and Mpofu, frustrated, hurled in a short, wide delivery that Samiullah Shenwari could not resist cutting. He got a bottom edge to Peter Moor to give Mpofu some joy. Having seen the Afghan batsmen's love of attacking, Mpofu stuck to the short-ball strategy, Najibullah Zadran pulled, and Moor chased the top-edge to the square-leg region.

All that probably did was leave Zimbabwe with a lot of regret. Afghanistan had lost seven wickets but the hosts must have felt at that point that a few more runs to defend would have been handy - until Nabi gave them hope they may have had enough. He went after Sean Williams and tried to slap through the covers but gave himself too much room and was bowled. "We suddenly thought, 'Hey, we could actually win this.' They were eight down and they only the tail to come."

"We joked with the batsmen that since we had been able to defend 130, maybe next time they could at least score 150. But, on the whole, we are going somewhere. If you watched us in these last few matches, you wouldn't have said we were losing."

The rest of Williams' over went run-less and Mpofu began his fifth with Afghanistan potentially one shot - six runs - away from sealing the series. He decided it would be the short ball again. "Rashid [Khan] tried to take me on and he nicked off and then I was quite sure we had it," Mpofu said. He went on to bowl a maiden as well, having claimed three wickets in five balls, and left it to Williams to defend six.

"The first ball of Sean's next over, [Amir] Hamza hit to our captain [Graeme] Cremer and he missed and it went for two and it seemed like maybe it wasn't going to be again," Mpofu said. "But then two balls later, he tried to go over the top and he was caught at short-third man. I actually had tears in my eyes, thinking, 'How did we do this?'"

Afghanistan were likely thinking the same thing. Mpofu confirmed there were "no demons" in the usually placid Harare pitch. "I was actually thinking it was even better than some of the strips I have seen here before," he said. "It was just that both teams played the wrong shots. We saw when Tarisai [Musakanda] and Malcolm [Waller] were batting, that it was a good wicket."

Musakanda and Waller's sixth-wicket partnership was worth 81 and rescued Zimbabwe from 40 for 5, a position worse than any they have been in in this series. The batting continues to let them down and Mpofu hopes some of the bowling self-belief and general good vibes will rub off.

"We joked with the batsmen that since we had been able to defend 130, maybe next time they could at least score 150," he said. "But, on the whole, we are going somewhere. If you watched us in these last few matches, even today, you wouldn't have said we were losing. We thought we didn't deserve to lose that first game. Ryan Burl got out the ball before the rain came [putting Zimbabwe behind on D/L] so we were just out of luck. The guys are prepared to fight for each other and the vibe is amazing."

Zimbabwe have been brought closer under Heath Streak's coaching, which has also allowed Mpofu, now 31, to feel better than he ever has about his bowling even though he is not getting the new ball as he expected he would. "I don't mind that. I am happy to be used wherever the team thinks they can use me because I feel like I am at the top of my game," he said. "What changed for me was when Christo Spies [a South African mental-strength coach] came and had a few sessions with us. He is different from a psychologist and after seeing him I have started bowling with no fear. The problem was fear of failure. I used to think that when I played, if I didn't do well in one game, I would lose my place for the next one but now I've let go of that. I've realised that if I just bowl with confidence, then whatever happens from that will happen. I am enjoying my cricket more than I ever have."

And he will only enjoy it more if Zimbabwe can go on to win the next two matches and steal a first-ever series win over Afghanistan. "This series is very important to us. Friday is going to be a big day. If we can get through there, we will have Afghanistan asking questions and we will answer some for ourselves."