Mohammad Shahzad displayed trademark brute force and timing to make a record-breaking ton and lead Afghanistan to an 81-run win against Zimbabwe in the second T20I in Sharjah. Shahzad clobbered a 67-ball 118, the highest individual score from an Associate nation in T20Is and fourth overall. By the time he was done, Zimbabwe had conceded 215 and were deflated.
That the next highest contribution after Shahzad's blitzkrieg was Mohammad Nabi's brisk 22, was symbolic of the ascendancy he had over Zimbabwe's helpless bowling attack. He got stuck into the medium-pacers as well as the spinners after a slow start, peppering the midwicket region with pulls and slog-sweeps. Within 14 overs, he reached his century and had batted Zimbabwe out of the series.
The Afghanistan innings had begun in amateurish fashion - a lot of shots but few runs. Both Shahzad and Usman Ghani looked to hit the cover off the ball, and thereby lost their shape and failed to find any timing. The first five overs produced 30.
Spin was introduced after the Powerplay and Shahzad used his technique with success - dancing down the pitch, going deep in the crease or down on one knee after a premeditated shuffle. Afghanistan had 59, and Shahzad 50. He connected with most of his sweeps and swipes, using his muscle to clear the boundary with ease.
Zimbabwe's bowlers repeatedly landed deliveries in Shahzad's hitting arc. Under duress, yorkers were attempted but were dispatched after ending up as low full-tosses. Legspinner Graeme Cremer went around the wicket to try and take the ball away from the right-hander. Shahzad shuffled across, bent down on one knee and slog-swept him to the midwicket boundary. When he got to his hundred, his joy was evident in his celebration as he removed his helmet and did the sajda.
When Zimbabwe's bowlers created a rare opportunity, their fielders let them down. At least three chances were spilled, including two off Shahzad - a hard running catch at long-on was parried to the boundary, and wicketkeeper Richmond Mutumbami, failed to get much glove on a skier. Shahzad was given another reprieve in the 16th over, on 101. Nabi had called him for a quick single but Shahzad failed to make his ground at the striker's end when the bails were whipped off. The third umpire, however, was not called upon.
Shahzad had laid the platform for the other batsmen to launch from the get-go. Despite struggling for timing, all the batsmen barring Ghani had strike-rates over 130 and at least one boundary.
Zimbabwe, who had never won a T20I series comprising more than one game, were never in the chase. Save Hamilton Masakadza, the rest of the top six contributed a total of five runs, as they slumped to 34 for 5 in the sixth over. Mutumbami and Sikandar Raza were comfortably stumped off deliveries that slid in with the arm and sneaked past the inside edge. Malcolm Waller misjudged a skidder and captain Elton Chigumbura was run out after looking for a run during an lbw appeal. The chase was done.
Masakadza and Peter Moor displayed a range of strokes and found a boundary almost every over, but the required run rate had touched 20. Masakadza, Zimbabwe's best batsman on the tour, looked comfortable for the duration of his stay. He lofted a Dawlat Zadran delivery with such splendid timing that it cleared the midwicket boundary and took him past Chigumbura as the Zimbabwe batsman with the most T20I sixes.
Masakadza struck his eighth fifty but it barely had any impact on the game. By the time he was bowled for 63, an innings that featured two fours and five sixes, Zimbabwe required 102 from 26 balls. The lower order could not achieve much, and slogged catches to fielders. Zimbabwe's misery ended when a casual Tendai Chisoro was run out after failing to ground his bat.