Afghanistan leveled the series against Zimbabwe with a three-wicket win in the fourth one-day international at Queens Sports Club, with Mohammad Shahzad's 80 setting up their pursuit of Zimbabwe's 184 for 8. Afghanistan appeared to be cruising to the win while Shahzad was at the crease, but in spin-friendly conditions they laboured over the latter stages of their chase, slipping from 119 for 1 to 178 for 7 before 17-year-old legspinner Rashid Khan sealed the match with a six over long-off.
They might have been chasing an even lower total had it not been for Sikandar Raza's gritty 86. Only two other Zimbabwe batsmen crossed 20 as Afghanistan's disciplined approach with the ball stifled the top order. Zimbabwe had stumbled to 82 for 6 before Raza and Luke Jongwe cobbled together a recovery with their 65-run partnership, which was the highest of the innings. Raza battled cramp and a withering blow to the groin as he hobbled through his knock, boosting Zimbabwe to a total that was never quite defendable.
It looked woefully under par when Afghanistan's openers, Shahzad and Noor Ali Zadran, cruised past fifty without offering the bowlers a chance. The opening stand was only broken at 72, in the 18th over, when Noor Ali cut left-arm spinner Chisoro to Elton Chigumbura. But it was Shahzad who had led the early charge, as he usually does, and he brought up a 60-ball fifty in the 20th over. He had also marched past 1000 ODI runs for Afghanistan in the process, and continued merrily on his way, swiping fours and sixes off Chisoro and Wellington Masakadza, Zimbabwe's other left-arm spinner.
At the other end, Mohammad Nabi got going in a similarly aggressive mode, and his first boundary was a straight six down the ground off legspinner Tino Mutombodzi. Afghanistan raced past 100, with well over half of the innings still to go, and in desperation Chigumbura turned back to opening bowler Luke Jongwe. He duly picked up a wicket with his third ball back into the attack, Nabi top-edging to mid-on, where Masakadza held onto a catch despite colliding with Tinashe Panyangara.
When Shahzad skied a catch to Raza, running back from midwicket in the next over, Afghanistan were 119 for 3 and wobbling slightly. Suddenly Zimbabwe buzzed with energy in the field, and reinvigorated bowlers repeatedly beat the outside edge. Chisoro was the pick of the bunch, and relentless pressure from his end eventually resulted in the dismissal of Nawroz Mangal, who gloved a sweep to Craig Ervine at slip.
Afghanistan were 133 for 4 then, needing only 52 to win, and Asghar Stanikzai hurried them closer by attacking the leg-side boundary off both the spinners and the quicks. Again, victory appeared a formality but when Samiullah Shenwari and Shafiqullah fell in consecutive overs, nerves began to set in. Zimbabwe scrapped for every run, and with seven needed Stanikzai was bowled by Sean Williams for 32 to reduce the visitors to 178 for 7. Zimbabwe were into the tail, but Afghanistan's tailenders hit the ball as hard as their top order and Rashid sealed the match with a huge blow off Williams.
Shahzad later said that the side took heart from the presence of allrounders in the side to recover from batting collapses. "It's a part of the game. Sometimes, the middle order collapses and sometimes the top order collapses," Shahzad said after the match. "We've had batting collapses in the last two matches, so it's no problem because we have a lot of batting allrounders. We never feel like the match is getting out of hand because we know that one more batsman is there in the pavilion."
Had Zimbabwe been able to scrape themselves past 200, they might have been able to apply greater pressure but their top order was scuppered by Afghanistan's committed effort. Their top four were all back in the pavilion inside the first 15 overs, and there was relentless pressure as Raza and Chigumbura were able to score just 24 off the next ten overs. A ball-watching Chigumbura was then run out for 15, and an over later Mutombodzi's stumping left Zimbabwe in serious trouble at 82 for 6.
Raza and Jongwe carried the side slowly past 100 in the 35th over, and Raza began to open up as he approached his fifty. He reached the mark with a six and a four off Shenwari in the 39th over, but he was already limping by then and the physio had been called out to attend to a problem in his right leg during the drinks break. He lost Jongwe in the 45th over, caught in the deep for 22, and was then left writhing on the ground when he was struck by a quick delivery from Dawlat Zadran in the 48th over. He bravely weathered the blow, and his own fatigue, to run five twos and a three before he was eventually dismissed by the penultimate ball of the innings for 86. Unfortunately for Zimbabwe, his efforts were all in vain.