Two months after Afghanistan travelled to Zimbabwe and became the first Associate side to beat a Test nation in a bilateral one-day series, they showed it was no fluke by replicating the results on what passes for home soil in Sharjah. Afghanistan took a 2-0 lead in the one-dayers before Zimbabwe hit back. The decider went down to the wire, but Afghanistan won with two balls and two wickets to spare. "It's a historic day," said their captain Asghar Stanikzai. The win moved them up to tenth in the ICC rankings, ahead of Ireland and Zimbabwe. For good measure, they then won both Twenty20 games too, as they had at Bulawayo in October.
The decisive 50-over match was a triumph for Gulbadeen Naib, in his first game of the series. He had not passed 31 in 15 previous ODIs, but now - coming in at No. 7 - zoomed to 82 not out, with six sixes, the last of which sealed victory. Gulbadeen thought he had won the match from the previous delivery, and embarked on a lap of honour before the umpires brought him down to earth. He quickly recovered his composure, and flicked the next ball over the ropes at deep square.
Afghanistan's other hero was their hard-hitting opener Mohammad Shahzad, who collected 388 runs in the seven matches, including a hundred in each format. Back in favour after missing the 2015 World Cup on fitness grounds, he paid tribute to the influence of the coach, former Pakistan captain Inzamamul-Haq, built along similarly comfortable lines.
Another sobering defeat for Zimbabwe was leavened by the return to form of Hamilton Masakadza: restored to the side for the last four 50-over games, he made 266 runs, and was unfortunate that his run-a-ball 110 in the final match did not lead to victory. The series started on Christmas Day, which is not widely observed in the Islamic emirate of Sharjah. But the matches did have a festive feel at times, particularly when Afghanistan had the upper hand, giving their passionate supporters reason to celebrate. They regularly performed the attan, a traditional folk dance, while Afghan flags were flourished proudly. The revelry was at its most fevered when Shahzad pummelled Afghanistan's first Twenty20 international century in the final game
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