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Tour and tournament reports

Afghanistan vs Zimbabwe 2020-21

A review of Afghanistan vs Zimbabwe in the UAE in 2020-21

Paul Radley
Sean Williams raises his bat after getting to 150 as Rashid Khan looks on  •  Abu Dhabi Cricket

Sean Williams raises his bat after getting to 150 as Rashid Khan looks on  •  Abu Dhabi Cricket

Test matches (2): Afghanistan 1, Zimbabwe 1
Twenty20 internationals (3): Afghanistan 3, Zimbabwe 0
Both sides had gone over a year without a Test, so it was no surprise Afghanistan and Zimbabwe took time to get back into the groove. The First Test ended in two days - as much a symptom of Afghanistan's lack of red-ball cricket as the uncharacteristically generous covering of grass on the Abu Dhabi pitch. Zimbabwe won handsomely, but struggled on a more typical track in the Second, and went down to a heavy defeat themselves.
The pandemic played its part. Coronavirus had caused a blanket ban on sport in Zimbabwe from the New Year, and ahead of their trip to the United Arab Emirates, they had played only two intra-squad games as preparation, in a bio-bubble in Harare. Even the venue for this series was affected. It was initially scheduled for neighbouring Oman, with Al Amerat's scenic Academy ground set to become the latest boutique Test venue. But Oman's borders were closed as Covid cases spiked: instead of the jagged peaks of the Al-Hajar Mountains, the backdrop was provided by the futuristic main stand of Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
This was the first time Afghanistan had been involved in a series worthy of the term: four previous Tests had all been one-offs, against different opponents. If having two matches proved anything, it was that they are quick learners. In the First Test, they were bowled out cheaply twice. But in the Second, they showed substance. Hashmatullah Shahidi batted for ten minutes shy of ten hours for his country's first double-century, while Rashid Khan (who missed the opening match with a finger injury) sent down 596 deliveries, and claimed 11 wickets.
As temperatures soared, sandstorms blew in, and Zimbabwe's batsmen knuckled down, the Afghans refused to wilt. Missing out on a rare series win was harsh on Zimbabwe's captain, Sean Williams, who made 264 runs and was the one consistently excellent performer on either side. Afghanistan knew his importance: when he came out to bat in the Second Test, their talkative wicketkeeper Afsar Zazai trumpeted: "Oh yes, boys. Come on. The real match starts now." Williams smiled, said "Thank you", and got to work. After a match-winning hundred in the First Test, his career-best 151 not out in the Second took Zimbabwe to within an hour of saving the game, and winning the series. It lifted his average in four Tests as captain to 96, against 27 in the ranks.
Williams had to cope without six first-choice players through illness or injury. Tendai Chatara, Craig Ervine, Kyle Jarvis, P. J. Moor, Brendan Taylor and white-ball captain Chamu Chibhabha were particularly missed in the Twenty20 games, in which Afghanistan (themselves without Mujeeb Zadran and Gulbadeen Naib, because of visa issues) won a series that resembled Groundhog Day: the margins of victory were 48, 45 and 47 runs.