Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
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Afghanistan 160 for 4 (Zazai 45, Najibullah 44*, Burl 3-14) beat Zimbabwe 159 for 8 (Raza 45, Masood 3-39) by six wickets
Zimbabwe began their final preparations for next month's T20 World Cup Qualifier with a six-wicket loss to Afghanistan, in the opening encounter of a three-match series. With only one partnership worth more than 30 runs, Zimbabwe posted a middling score of 159 for 8, but almost turned into something more competitive than it looked. Ryan Burl's 3 for 14 gave them a chance of defending the total, but an 83-run opening stand and Najibullah Zadran's unbeaten 44 secured victory for Afghanistan, with four balls to spare.
In the absence of Sean Williams, Zimbabwe's batting continued to look thin, with only two of their batters scoring more than 30. Wessley Madhevere, who was one of those, survived the loss of Innocent Kaia, his opening partner, to share a second-wicket stand of 30 with captain Craig Ervine. The pair was in a good position to lay a solid foundation for Zimbabwe but Ervine became debutant Nijat Masood's first victim when he offered the medium-pacer a return catch off a leading edge.
Raza top-scored with 45 but gave Masood his third wicket when he cut him behind square where Hazratullah Zazai took a good catch at short third-man. Masood finished with 3 for 39, successful but expensive and it was Rashid Khan who was more economical with figures of 1 for 21 in his four overs.
Afghanistan took control of the chase through their openers. Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz put on 83 in the first ten overs, which included 44 runs in boundaries. They were stopped in successive balls when they tried to take on Burl. Gurbaz was caught off a leading edge and Zazai at long-on before Usman Ghani edged to the keeper, as he tried to sweep, to leave Afghanistan on 86 for 3 in 11 overs.
Four boundary-less overs followed and as a result Afghanistan's required run-rate crept above 12 an over. They needed 61 runs off the last five overs and 54 off the last four before Blessing Muzarabani's penultimate over cost 26 runs as Zadran plundered 16 runs off the first three deliveries, which included a no-ball. Luke Jongwe pulled things back when he bowled Darwish Rasooli in the 18th over, which went for 10. Tendai Chatara delivered the 19th, which also cost 10 and set up a tense finish.
Muzarabani returned to bowl the last over, and had seven runs to defend, but Zadran took two off his first ball and swung the second over square leg to seal the win with a six.