Waller fights till the end but falls short by five runs in chase of 188 in first T20I
Afghanistan beat Zimbabwe by five runs in an enthralling first Twenty20 International between the two sides at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Friday (January 8) evening to go 1-0 up in the two-match series. Malcolm Waller and Luke Jongwe tried their best, but could only take their side to 182 for 7 in 20 overs in response to Afghanistan's 187 for 7.
Choosing to bat first on a pleasant evening in Sharjah, Afghanistan got off to a flying start, with openers Mohammad Shahzad and Usman Ghani taking their side to 63 without loss in just 6.2 overs. Shahzad, the aggressor in the partnership, smashed two fours and three sixes in his 17-ball 33 before Graeme Cremer went past his defence to break the threatening stand.
Two overs later, Cremer struck again, removing Asghar Stanikzai, caught by Sikander Raza at deep midwicket, for 8.
That brought Karim Sadiq and Ghani together, and the duo added 29 runs off 26 balls for the third wicket before Ghani miscued a slower delivery from Raza straight to Peter Moor at long off. Three balls later, Sadiq became Cremer's third victim, and the scoreboard read 105 for 4.
It was then up to Gulbadin Naib and Mohammad Nabi to take Afghanistan to a competitive total, and the duo did well to string together a fifth-wicket stand of 52 off just 27 balls, taking their side past the 150-run mark.
Nabi scored 26 off 11 balls and Gulbadin struck 37 off 20 to help Afghanistan set Zimbabwe the 188-run target.
Cremer, with figures of 3 for 17, was the best bowler for Zimbabwe.
In reply, Zimbabwe was rattled by the early dismissal of Moor, caught by Najibullah Zadran off Dawlat Zadran in the first over of the chase. Dawlat returned to dismiss Chamu Chibhabha (18 off 10) in the third over, leaving Zimbabwe tottering at 32 for 2.
Masakadza and Richmond Mutumbami tried to resurrect the innings with a third-wicket partnership of 22 off 19 balls, but Gulbadin put an end to it in the seventh over, sending Mutumbami back for 19.
Masakadza, like he has done so many times before, took the responsibility of anchoring the innings from then on, batting alongside Malcolm Waller, the No. 5 batsman. At the halfway mark, Zimbabwe was 79 for 3, still in need of 110 runs for victory.
The duo, in an attempt to boost the scoring-rate, took Gulbadin on, smashing 16 runs off the next over, but Masakadza's resistance did not last beyond that, Nabi going past his defence off the very first ball after the break.
Masakadza's knock of 33 lasted 24 balls, and included three fours and two sixes.
But all was not lost yet, with Zimbabwe at 95 for 4 and still in the hunt. Waller and Raza decided to play it safe, scoring in singles and twos, and finding the fence off the occasional bad ball, slowly inching towards the target.
Waller was dropped in the 17th over, though Zimbabwe failed to take full advantage of the reprieve, losing Raza in the next over, stumped by Shahzad off Amir Hamza, the left-arm spinner, for 19.
But Waller fought till the end, notching up an unbeaten 49 off 37 balls, his knock studded with two fours and two sixes. With 21 runs left to achieve in the last over, the pressure was immense, even for Dawlat, who conceded a wide and two free hits. Jongwe hit a boundary and a six, but Zimbabwe, despite getting tantalisingly close, fell just short.
Afghanistan had beaten Zimbabwe 3-2 in the preceding five-match One-Day International series.