NAGPUR: Afghanistan earned the right to a third appearance in the main draw of the World T20 with a comprehensive win over Full Members Zimbabwe in what was a knockout to advance to the next round. Mohammad Nabi’s career-best 52 helped Afghanistan recover from a mid-innings wobble and build on a strong start to post a total Zimbabwe never looked capable of chasing.
After two scrappy wins in the qualifiers, Zimbabwe were given their biggest task when Afghanistan took on their bowling and then demanded a highest-ever successful chase from them. Although Zimbabwe’s top order did not fold as dramatically as it had in previous appearances, they could not keep up with the required run rate, especially against an attack that strangled them with spin.
Afghanistan had set Zimbabwe a similar target in January in Sharjah. Then, Zimbabwe got close thanks to a fiesty fight from Malcolm Waller. This time, like the rest of his team-mates, he was troubled by turn and found it difficult to score freely.
On a slow and sticky surface, Afghanistan started off as aggressively as they have done all tournament as Mohammad Shahzad took on Tendai Chatara and Donald Tiripano. He swung hard no matter what the length or line and tripped himself up when he reverse-swept Sean Williams straight to point. By then, Afghanistan already had 49 runs, of which Shahzad had scored 40, in under five overs.
Zimbabwe conceded just 24 runs in the next five overs and could have had Mohammad Nabi stumped on 20 when he charged against Wellington Masakadza but the ball popped out of Richmond Mutumbami’s gloves. They also thought they had Samiullah Shenwari caught at deep midwicket for 17 but Waller’s low diving catch was referred to the third umpire who decided to rule Waller not out. The pair got some luck and rode it.
They put on 98 runs for the fifth wicket and 52 of those came after the 15th over, after which Nabi punished short balls from Masakadza and Shenwari pulled Tinashe Panyangara’s figures out of shape. Zimbabwe were unable to stop the bleeding even when Shenwari holed out to deep midwicket and Nabi was run-out after reaching fifty, and conceded 28 runs in the last two overs.
Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda approached their chase conservatively. The first boundary only came in the third over when Masakadza deposited a Dawlat Zadran ball over deep square leg but his aggression did not last long. He tried to do the same thing to Hamid Hassan but missed a full and straight delivery and was bowled.
Sibanda seemed ready to adopt the more responsible role he played in the first match against Hong Kong but Afghanistan had an ace up as their sleeve. As soon as the Powerplay ended, 17-year-old legspinner Rashid Khan was brought on. Sibanda swept and top-edged to give Hamid a simple catch. Mutumbami holed out, as he had done in every innings in the qualifiers so far, in the next over for 10. Williams and Waller were rebuilding slowly but with every delivery they did not score off, they were actually costing Zimbabwe. They limped to the halfway stage on 58 for 3.
Waller played down the wrong line to Shenwari and was bowled before Rashid had Williams stumped and Zimbabwe’s fight was over. Shenwari, Rashid and Nabi continued to confound Zimbabwe’s batsmen with spin, so much so that none of their batsmen managed to get past 17 runs, and the one who did – Panyangara – was just having some fun as the end loomed. Zimbabwe lost their last five wickets for 37 runs and were booted out of the tournament before it has even really started for the second time.
In 2014, too, Zimbabwe had failed to qualify and a successive failure will raise questions about the quality of their cricket. In the end, the team that is most likely to challenge the big boys, Afghanistan, have rightful reason to celebrate.
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