Richmond Mutumbami’s 74 helped Zimbabwe secure a 2-1 series lead with a six-wicket victory in the third one-day international against Afghanistan at the Queens Sports Club. Mutumbami’s aggressive knock, which included four fours and two sixes, ensured a steady start to Zimbabwe’s pursuit of Afghanistan’s 223 for 8. The visitors chipped away at the middle order, but Zimbabwe never lost wickets in clusters, with Elton Chigumbura and Sikandar Raza’s unbeaten 51-run stand seeing the side home in the final over.
That had not been the case when Afghanistan batted, and they will rue the collapse which ruined the platform that had been set by their top order. Noor Ali Zadran scored his second consecutive fifty in the series, and Mohammad Nabi chipped in with 42 but Afghanistan slipped from 124 for 1 to 149 for 6 against some disciplined bowling. Had they held together more firmly, Zimbabwe might have sweated a bit more in their chase.
Mutumbami burst out of the blocks with three fours in the first five overs and Zimbabwe had cruised to 40 before Afghanistan broke through with the wicket of Chamu Chibhabha. He had been happy to lay down an anchor as Mutumbami took the bowlers on, but was then dismissed in unusual circumstances. Chibhabha stepped away to cut left-arm spinner Amir Hamza, who had opened the bowling, but chopped the ball close to his stumps. He stuck his hand out to catch the ball, tossing it away, but wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad immediately appealed. Umpire Nigel Llong upheld the appeal, and Chibhabha became the first Zimbabwe batsman to be given out for handling the ball.
For a while Mutumbami tempered his attacking instincts, but he should have been out for 36 when he chipped a regulation catch to Samiullah Shenwari at midwicket. The ball went straight into the fielder’s hands, and then straight out again when his elbows hit the ground. Again the batsmen buckled down, but Afghanistan forced another opening when Hamza bowled Craig Ervine for 11 in the 22nd over.
That dismissal brought Sean Williams to the crease, and he clashed almost immediately with Shahzad, who was a constantly chatty presence behind the stumps. At one point, the umpires had to step in when Williams and Shahzad faced off mid-pitch, but Mutumbami – who had also exchanged a few words with the wicketkeeper – didn’t lose his focus and put Zimbabwe back on top with a pair of sixes off Nabi and teenage legspinner Rashid Khan. He was offered another life when he was dropped at long-off on 68, and eventually fell for a career-best 74, slog-sweeping Hamza out to Rashid on the deep-midwicket boundary.
As tempers calmed, Chigumbura and Williams eased into accumulation mode, and they had taken the runs needed to under 50 before Williams chipped a catch to long-on. Chigumbura and Raza forestalled any chance of an Afghanistan fightback with a chanceless fifty partnership, and though the match went into the final over, Zimbabwe were always ahead of the game.
Afghanistan’s middle-order implosion meant they had always been chasing it. Asghar Stanikzai had chosen to bat once again, and the decision appeared to be validated when Afghanistan cruised past 120 in the 30th over. But Noor Ali was then bowled behind his legs, attempting to sweep, and two balls later Nawroz Mangal picked out Luke Jongwe on the deep-midwicket boundary for the second wicket of the over. Afghanistan needed to steady themselves, but Stanikzai heaved wildly at his third ball to be caught behind for a duck, and 124 for 1 had become 124 for 4.
Miscommunication between Nabi and Shenwari brought another dismissal, with both batsmen at the same end when Nabi was run-out for 42. Shenwari was then bowled, slog-sweeping at Wellington Masakadza’s left-arm spin, and Afghanistan were sinking fast at 149 for 6 in the 40th over. They might have been bowled out for under 200 had the recalled Shafiqullah not led a spirited lower-order counter-assault, ably helped by Dawlat Zadran’s sparky cameo. Despite their efforts, Afghanistan’s total was always below par for the conditions.