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    On song Afghanistan seeks to seal series

    After two last-over losses, Zimbabwe will want to close out games and end UAE tour on a high
    Both Afghanistan and Zimbabwe have traded victories throughout their series in the United Arab Emirates. The One-Day International series began with Afghanistan winning the first two matches. Zimbabwe then won the next two, before Afghanistan sealed a two-wicket win in a thriller of a decider to take the series 3-2. 

    It was once again a well-fought contest as the teams moved on to the shortest format, both fighting it out in another thriller in the first Twenty20 International, which Afghanistan won by five runs. 

    If that trend is anything to go by, it should be another cracker of a contest in the second and final T20I at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Sunday (January 10). 

    While the series has been a well-fought one, what it also means is that neither team has been consistent, which makes it extremely hard to pick a favourite heading into the final match of the tour. 

    While the majority of the ODI series saw both teams blow hot and cold with bat and ball, the last two matches have showcased a more collective effort. It also resulted in more close contests, as seen by the win margins: two wickets in the fifth ODI and five runs in the first T20I.  

    Despite the narrow defeats, Zimbabwe will take heart from the return to form of Malcolm Waller, who had a middling run in the ODI series, where he scored just 23 runs in five games at 4.60. Waller, who walked in with his team 54 for 3 in 6.1 overs in pursuit of 188, fought well with an unbeaten 49 off 37 balls. Hamilton Masakadza, who has been among the runs throughout, came good again in that match, his 24-ball 33 giving the team a strong start. 

    On the bowling front, Graeme Cremer, the legspinner, bowled superbly, taking 3 for 17 in four overs in a high-scoring match, and Zimbabwe will once again rely on him in the spinner-friendly conditions of Sharjah. 

    Afghanistan will especially be pleased with the manner in which its batting clicked as a unit. Mohammad Shahzad and Usman Ghani gave the side a good start through a 63-run opening stand in just 6.3 overs. Later in the innings, Mohammad Nabi and Gulabdin Naib made good use of the platform laid and added 52 for the fifth wicket off just 27 balls, and though the stand was broken with just 13 deliveries remaining in the innings, Afghanistan managed to plunder 30 runs.

    Dawlat Zadran, the new-ball bowler, and Amir Hamza, the left-arm spinner, have been the two best bowlers for Afghanistan and they once again proved it in the last game. While Zadran picked up three wickets, Hamza was economical, conceding just 23 runs in four overs.      

    After this series, Zimbabwe plays four T20Is in an away series against Bangladesh later this month. Afghanistan's next match in the shortest format, on the other hand, will be in the ICC World Twenty20 in India in March-April, which means that apart from the opportunity to complete a double of the ODI and T20I series, this will be the final chance to iron out the kinks ahead of the mega event.

    Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (capt), Mohammad Nabi, Nawroz Mangal, Mirwais Ashraf, Samiullah Shenwari, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Shafiqullah, Usman Ghani, Yamin Ahmadzai, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Noor Ali Zadran, Rashid Khan, Rokhan Barakzai, Amir Hamza, Sayed Shirzad, Karim Sadiq, Nawaz Khan.

    Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (capt), Hamilton Masakadza, Sikandar Raza, Chamu Chibhabha, Tendai Chisoro, Graeme Cremer, Craig Ervine, Luke Jongwe, Neville Madziva, Wellington Masakadza, Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Tauari Muzarabani, Tinashe Panyangara, Malcolm Waller, Peter Moor.


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