Both sides have played good cricket and find themselves locked at 2-2 in five-match series
In what has been a closely contested series, it is only fitting that the fifth and final One-Day International between Zimbabwe and Afghanistan will be the deciding one. The two sides will meet on Saturday (October 24) at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, knowing that players on both sides have given it their all, and whoever can summon one final burst will win the series.
Afghanistan had done remarkably well to come back each time and restore parity after Zimbabwe took the early lead. In the fourth ODI on Thursday, Afghanistan faced a must-win situation and held its nerve for a three-wicket win, with Mohammad Shahzad’s 80 off 81 balls the guiding force in a chase of 185.
That match continued the trend of tightly fought games with both sides making the other work hard to earn a win, and set up the series decider nicely.
Only in the first ODI – which Zimbabwe on by eight wickets in just 23.2 overs after Afghanistan had been bowled out for 122 – was there victory by a big margin. After that, Afghanistan found its groove and the results have shown.
In the second match, Mohammad Nabi smashed his maiden one-day hundred, hitting 116 off 121 balls, to lead the side to a commanding 271 for 6. The bowlers all chipped in after that to keep Zimbabwe to 213 all out and win by 58 runs.
With the series equalised, there was a new confidence in the Afghanistan side, and that was reflected in the third match. Contributions by the top order and a late surge by the tail pushed Afghanistan to 223 for 8, and the bowlers manfully strove to keep Zimbabwe’s batsmen from reaching the target. Eventually, Richmond Mutumbami’s 74 and Elton Chigumbura’s unbeaten 49 were enough to carry the home side past the line with just two balls remaining.
But Afghanistan put that setback behind with victory in the fourth match, and it is anybody’s game come Saturday.
Both sides have had various people putting their hands up when the situation demanded, but Afghanistan’s batting has been its key driver, while for Zimbabwe, the bowlers have done the job. The top three run-getters in what has been a fairly low-scoring series are all from the visiting side, with Nabi leading the way, Shahzad second and Noor Ali Zadran, who has made vital contributions all through at the top of the order, third.
Amongst bowlers, Tendai Chisoro, the left-armer, and Wellington Masakadza, the left-arm spinner, have led the way. Chisoro has nine wickets at an average of 15 and an economy rate of 3.85 to be the leader of the pack. Masakadza has also done well, with seven wickets in the four matches.
On the whole, the surfaces on offer in Bulawayo have made for good contests, with the bowlers perhaps holding an edge. With everything at stake in the decider, Zimbabwe will bank on its home-advantage and greater experience to pull through, but as the four matches so far have shown, Afghanistan is not to be under-estimated, and will be motivated to give something extra with a historic series win on the horizon.
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.