Friday, July 18, 2014
Start time 0900 local (0700 GMT)
It has been more than 10 months and a few days since Zimbabwe last played an ODI. Ten months ago, they were handed a drubbing by India before a 2-1 series loss to Pakistan and things, unfortunately, slid further downhill for them. The financial crisis within the board precipitated a player boycott that ate into the domestic season and forced tours to either be cancelled or deferred. The series against Afghanistan was one of the cancelled tours, originally scheduled to be held in January.
As things stand, the current series has many firsts. It is the first bilateral one-day series Afghanistan will play against a Test-playing nation. With the recent announcement of contracts, it will also be the first series where Zimbabwe's players will enjoy a rare financial certainty that was missing for most of last few months. The series against Afghanistan will kick off a season that will see Zimbabwe host South Africa and Australia, before the Bangladesh tour and then the World Cup next year. At a time when most teams are locking down their squads for the World Cup, Zimbabwe are just getting off the blocks in terms of their preparations and have to catch up quickly. Afghanistan are unlikely to make it easy for them.
The diverse bowling attack is easily one of the most impressive aspects of the Afghanistan side and their potential was on display when they beat hosts Bangladesh and troubled Sri Lanka and Pakistan in their maiden Asia Cup appearance. Their inconsistent batting, however, has been a let-down. Asghar Stanikzai and Gulbadin Naib's return may lend heft on paper, but some of that experience needs to show urgently at the crease.
Zimbabwe LLWLL (completed matches only, most recent first) Afghanistan WWLLW
In the spotlight
There has been talk that Zimbabwe Cricket may join the league of countries with different captains for different formats and a decision on this is likely to be taken before the South Africa series in August. Brendan Taylor has been the side's wicketkeeper and anchor batsman, and has juggled the leadership role since 2011. Over the last two years, however, his form has dipped. Astute captaincy against Afghanistan and a series win would only work in his favour.
At 17 years old, opening batsman Usman Ghani is the youngest in the Afghanistan squad but has made a quick transition from the Under-19 level to the senior ODI team. In six matches of the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year, he made 128 runs at a strike rate of 92.75 but was far more impressive in the ACC Premier League, where he scored 288 runs in five games. Two of his three fifties in the tournament came in his first two ODIs. He has already scored a fifty in the warm-up game against Zimbabwe A and Afghanistan will look to the youngster to provide a solid start.
Afghanistan tried out a different opening combination in the two practice games and had also given Dawlat Zadran a rest in the second. They are likely to bring in Noor Ali Zadran and Usman Ghani as openers. Left-arm spinner Sharafuddin Ashraf, who took 6 for 29 in the first warm-up game, could get an ODI debut.
Afghanistan (probable) 1 Noor Ali Zadran, 2 Usman Ghani, 3 Asghar Stanikzai, 4 Hashmatullah Shaidi, 5 Samiullah Shenwari, 6 Mohammad Nabi (capt), 7 Shafiqullah (wk), 8 Mirwais Ashraf/Gulbadin Naib, 9 Sharafuddin Ashraf, 10 Shapoor Zadran, 11 Dawlat Zadran/Aftab Alam
Zimbabwe have had exactly three days of international cricket so far this year, all T20s. They have been preparing for the series with an extensive training camp.
Zimbabwe (probable) 1 Sikandar Raza, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (wk & capt), 5 Sean Williams, 6 Malcom Waller, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Prosper Utseya/Natsai M'shangwe, 9 Brian Vitori, 10 Tendai Chatara, 11 Tinashe Panyangara
Stats and trivia
Four members of Afghanistan's current ODI squad - Hashmatullah Shaidi, Nasir Jamal, Sharafuddin Ashraf and Usman Ghani - played in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year
In 14 games since the start of 2013, Vusi Sibanda has been Zimbabwe's most successful batsman, scoring 432 runs in 13 innings at an average of 36 with three fifties and a hundred
Samiullah Shenwari needs another 63 runs to become the third Afghanistan batsman to score 800 runs in ODIs
"They have good balance. Upfront they have good strikers [of the ball]. They also have seam bowlers who have done well with the new ball upfront. And also, every subcontinent country has good quality spinners. We have to respect them in all three departments." Brendan Taylor, the Zimbabwe captain, says his team is not taking Afghanistan lightly