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Battle-ready Zimbabwe starts favourite

Buoyed by recent results, host will look to continue winning run against spunky Afghanistan

Battle-ready Zimbabwe starts favourite - Cricket News
Zimbabwe will be eager to keep the momentum going after defeating Ireland 2-1 in the ODI series.
Since the 2015 World Cup, Zimbabwe has played 15 One-Day Internationals and seven Twenty20 Internationals. To say it has had a busy couple of months is an understatement. At the other end of the spectrum sits Afghanistan, who hasn't seen much action since the marquee tournament.
But Zimbabwe can ill-afford to bank on that when the two teams meet for the first ODI in Bulawayo on Friday (October 16). The visiting side is no shrinking violet when it comes to taking on more established sides, and even the mere whiff of complacency could fire it up.
Afghanistan's limited-overs tour, which includes five ODIs followed by two T20Is, puts Zimbabwe in a rather unique position of being the pre-series favourite. While it has pulled off the occasional victory when India, New Zealand and Pakistan have come calling in recent times, its biggest success has been the 2-1 series win against Ireland, and it will be eager to keep the momentum going.
Zimbabwe sealed a two-wicket win in the first game and a five-wicket win in the second, but couldn't close out the third and final game as Ireland sneaked home in a two-wicket thriller.
Making sure it keeps its foot firmly on the pedal will be key for Zimbabwe. The series marks Afghanistan's second visit to Zimbabwe after having toured last year, and the four ODIs and two four-day games ended in a deadlock at 2-2 and 1-1 respectively, so the home side will want to impose itself from the outset.
Crucial to Zimbabwe's fortunes will be Craig Ervine, Sikandar Raza and Sean Williams, who have been excellent with the bat of late. In the bowling department, Wellington Masakadza, who made his debut in the series against Ireland, has been the pick and will look to continue in the same vein.

Afghanistan, meanwhile, has already got a feel for the conditions which it will encounter, having played three practice games against Zimbabwe Chairman's XI. Afghanistan notched up two easy wins, but faltered in the third game, where Regis Chakabva stole the show with an unbeaten 92. 
Afghanistan will count on the likes of Mohammad Shahzad, Nawroz Mangal and Asghar Stanikzai to fire with the bat, and hope that Samiullah Shenwari, who has looked out of touch in the practice games, finds form soon. Bowling wise, Mohammad Nabi, Dawlat Zadran and Amir Hamza could play an important role.
Another fascinating sub-plot in the series will be the battle of wits between the two coaches. While Dav Whatmore, the Zimbabwe coach, has been playing an important role behind the scenes, fostering camaraderie with team bonding activities and bringing enjoyment back into the environment, Afghanistan has roped in Inzamam-ul-Haq, the former Pakistan captain, as its head coach.
Inzamam, whose previous coaching assignment at the international level was a short-term role as Pakistan's batting consultant in 2012-13, has signed on for only the Zimbabwe tour as of now. However, his contract could be extended for up to two years if both he and the Afghanistan Cricket Board work out an agreement.
Zimbabwe will be eager to continue its winning ways, but Afghanistan, given its spunk and determination, can't be discounted in what should be a hotly-contested series.
Teams (from):
Zimbabwe: Chamu Chibhabha, Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Brian Chari, Sean Williams, Elton Chigumbura (capt), Sikandar Raza, Tino Mutombodzi, Luke Jongwe, Wellington Masakadza, Taurai Muzarabani, John Nyumbu, Tendai Chisoro, Neville Madziva, Tinashe Panyangara, Craig Ervine.
Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (capt), Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Aftab Alam, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Mirwais Ashraf, Shafiqullah, Samiullah Shenwari, Nawroz Mangal, Mohammad Nabi, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Fareed Ahmad, Amir Hamza.

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