Zimbabwe 250 (Williams 105, Hamza 6-75) and 17 for 0 beat Afghanistan 131 (Zazai 37, Muzarabani 4-48) and 135 (Zadran 76, Tiripano 3-23) by 10 wickets
Zimbabwe sauntered to a big win over Afghanistan in the first Test meeting between these two sides, which lasted just two days, in Abu Dhabi. After bowling Afghanistan out for scores of 131 and 135, Zimbabwe needed just 17 runs to win and got them unscathed in 3.2 overs in their second innings.
On a surface that was green-tinged to start where there was ample movement to be found and good bounce throughout, scoring was tough but not impossible. Zimbabwe's captain Sean Williams, who brought up his third Test century and second as captain, and 19-year-old Afghan opener Ibrahim Zadran, who top-scored for his team with 76 in the second innings, showed the application required to craft an innings on this pitch. Solid defensive technique was a must and any errors in length could be punished, which they both did.
No other batsmen on either side managed more than 44 runs, with only four Zimbabweans other than Williams getting into double figures and one other Afghan player, Afsar Zazai, making more than 30. Eight Afghan batsmen were dismissed for single figures in their second innings, five of them for ducks. Neither Zimbabwe nor Afghanistan played Test cricket for a year before this and the struggles of their batsmen was as much an illustration of the dearth of long-form cricket as it was an indication of the comparative strength of their bowling styles. Zimbabwe's quicks Victor Nyauchi, Blessing Muzarabani and Donald Tiripano shared 16 of the 20 Afghan wickets among them while left-arm spinner Amir Hamza took a career-best 6 for 75, his second successive five-for in Tests.
Ultimately Williams, and the two half-century stands he shared with Sikandar Raza and Regis Chakabva, proved to be the biggest difference between the two sides. While Raza and Williams stabilised Zimbabwe from 38 for 4 on the first day, Chakabva's proactive presence helped push Zimbabwe into a commanding lead, while Williams acted as the fulcrum around which the innings was build.
Williams lost his overnight partner Ryan Burl in the second over of the second morning, but Chakabva transferred pressure back on to Afghanistan. He scored 24 runs off the first 34 balls he faced, and struck Zimbabwe's only six.
Williams' approach had been watchful throughout and he scored 11 runs in 22 balls in the morning before he had the opportunity to drive Yamin Ahmadzai through extra cover. Ahmadzai thought he had Williams caught behind on 70, and there seemed to be a sound, but umpire Ahmed Shah Pakteen was unmoved. But, Afghanistan did find a way to break the partnership. With less than 15 minutes for lunch, Zahir Khan drew Chakabva forward in an attempt to defend a ball that took the inside edge onto the pad and to Abdul Malik at short leg.
Williams entered the 90s with a pull off Zahir before Tiripano departed in similar fashion to Chakabva. Muzarabani took the lead over 100 with a heave over square leg, and Williams went to lunch on 97. He reached his hundred in the third over after the break with a single to square leg, but only scored five more runs before flicking Hamza to midwicket. Williams' hundred was his second successive three-figure score in Tests and he showed the temperament required to succeed in the longest format.
To a lesser degree, so did Zadran, with good awareness of his off stump and an eye for any small errors in line or length. He was especially comfortable against spin and will serve as an example to the rest of the line-up, especially those in the top order.
Debutant opener Abdul Malik has work to do on his technique against shorter deliveries after he picked up a pair, edging Nyauchi to Regis Chakabva in the second over. No. 3 Munir Ahmed, also in his first match, played down the wrong line to a full Muzarabani ball and Rahmat Shah was undone by swing from Nyauchi, and tried to turn a ball that dipped on him square but was hit on the pad to be dismissed lbw for a duck. Hashmatullah Shahidi top-edged a short ball to deep square leg, Zazai went forward to defend a Williams delivery that pitched on middle stump and spun past the edge to trap him lbw, and Asghar Afghan left a bat-pad gap that Muzarabani burst through with a delivery that jagged back in.
By tea, with Afghanistan 49 for 6, Zimbabwe had an innings victory in their sights, which only got closer when Burl bowled fellow legspinner Abdul Wasi shortly after the interval. Hamza stuck with Zadran and shared a 48-run eighth-wicket stand that ended when Zadran's concentration waned and he drove a wide Tiripano delivery only to edge behind. Tiripano had Ahmadzai caught at second slip off the next ball and Zahir toe-ending a slog to mid-off to end the Afghanistan innings and leave Zimbabwe with a small target to take the series lead.
The second Test starts on March 10 at the same venue.
Afghanistan vs Zimbabwe
Afghanistan v Zimbabwe
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent