Afghanistan's chance at history in series decider
Saturday, October 24
Start time 9.30am local (0730 GMT)
An ODI against Afghanistan in Bulawayo does not, perhaps, quite fit with traditional ideas about a marquee final, and there won't be quite the same build-up for Saturday's game as there will be for India and South Africa's match at the Wankhede, but context is everything here. For Afghanistan (who can be the first Associate to beat a Full Member in a multi-game bilateral ODI series), for Zimbabwe (who do not want to be at the receiving end of that first), for Bulawayo, this is a big match - and it's impossible to pick a favourite.
These teams traded heavy blows in the first two games, with Zimbabwe trampling over the visitors in the first game, and Mohammad Nabi's maiden ODI hundred setting up a resounding victory over the hosts in the second. Since then, they have drawn closer together, Zimbabwe winning the third game with just two balls to spare and Afghanistan stumbling to a nervous, three-wicket win in the fourth.
Zimbabwe have the advantage by playing at their home ground with - theoretically - superior batsmen and a trio of left-arm spinners who have taken 19 wickets in four games, but Afghanistan are matchless in their belief in their own abilities. Cricket being a game played as much in the mind as it is on the field, strange things can happen when pressure and expectation combine.
As a group, and despite the superior experience within their ranks, Zimbabwe's batsmen have also underperformed throughout this series and 229 is their highest total in four games. Both of the matches they have won were set up by their bowlers, particularly the spinners, and it was in the field that Zimbabwe were eventually able to wrest some control back on Thursday.
Afghanistan have a couple of quality spinners of their own, with Amir Hamza taking six wickets in four games and Rashid Khan getting through his overs of craft and guile at just 3.73 runs an over. Seamer Dawlat Zadran has also proved reliable with both the new and the the old ball.
It might be tempting for Zimbabwean supporters to suggest that Afghanistan have played above themselves on this tour but, apart from their 58-run win in the second game, that is not really the case. But they have been typically relentless in their pursuit of glory. Earlier this season, Zimbabwe batting coach Bundu Waller spoke about hunger and desire being key to success. Afghanistan have it in spades, and now is the time for Zimbabwe to show just how much they want this.
Zimbabwe LWLWL (last five completed games most recent first)
In the spotlight
Tendai Chisoro is the leading wicket-taker in this series, with nine scalps at 15.00, and an economy of 3.85, in the 35 overs he has bowled. It's a successful start to his international career, and one he might not have envisaged when he made his first-class debut as a teenager more than nine years ago. Chisoro was a pace bowler then, and continued to be for several seasons before Dave Houghton, who was his coach at Mountaineers, prompted a turn to spin. Problematic back and ankle injuries sealed the move, and Chisoro now finds himself as one of Zimbabwe's pivotal bowlers as a spinner.
With a major series on the line, the potential for Afghanistan to over-excite themselves and lose focus in the face of the occasion could be high, and the role of captain Asghar Stanikzai will be an important one. Stanikzai has a couple of senior players, including two former captains, to help him and he will have been buoyed by Afghanistan's successes in the series so far. Stanikzai has had a somewhat quiet series with the bat, amid a struggling middle order, and he could also do with some runs to cap the occasion.
Despite their defeat on Thursday, Zimbabwe are not in the position to make any sudden changes and their playing XI is likely to remain the same.
Zimbabwe: (probable) 1 Chamu Chibhabha, 2 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 3 Craig Ervine, 4 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 5 Sean Williams, 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Tino Mutombodzi, 8 Luke Jongwe, 9 Tendai Chisoro, 10 Wellington Masakadza, 11 Tinashe Panyangara.
Barring an injury, Afghanistan also probably won't change their side. Nawroz Mangal continues to struggle with his form, getting out for single figures as Afghanistan stumbled in the last match, but as a senior player and former captain, they will probably want him around for a crunch match.
Afghanistan: (probable) 1 Noor Ali Zadran, 2 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 3 Mohammad Nabi, 4 Asghar Stanikzai (capt), 5 Hashmatullah Shahidi/Najibullah Zadran, 6 Samiullah Shenwari, 7 Shafiqullah, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Amir Hamza, 10 Dawlat Zadran, 11 Aftab Alam.
Pitch and conditions
The amount of turn on offer on the Queens Sports Club pitches has surprised many during this series and, given the trajectory of the series so far, the pitch used is likely to play in a similar manner. It might not rag quite as square as the one used on Thursday, which was also the same track upon which Zimbabwe bowled Afghanistan out for 122 in the first game, but the ability to play slow bowling will be vital to success.
The weather is predicted to be warm and sunny throughout.
Stats and trivia
- Zimbabwe and Afghanistan have now played eight ODIs against each other, winning four each
- The top three run-scorers in this series are also Afghanistan's top three in their batting order. Mohammad Nabi (170 runs), Mohammad Shahzad (150) and Noor Ali Zadran (148) have all found conditions to their liking
- In five-match bilateral series, Zimbabwe have found themselves at 2-2 against India, West Indies and Bangladesh, but have never won the decider. Afghanistan have never played a five-match bilateral ODI series before, playing in series of four games against Zimbabwe and UAE in the past.
"We've beaten a Full Member [twice] in four matches, so I'm proud of my boys. I'm proud of my team."
Mohammad Shahzad will be even more proud if Afghanistan can pull off a series win on Saturday
"The want and the value in their wickets [for the batsmen] is not as high as it should be."
Zimbabwe batting coach Andy Waller wants greater application from his batsmen
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town