A sensible half-century from Peter Moor up front set Zimbabwe up for a big total and another one from Craig Ervine helped them control the middle overs and ensured they got to an above-par 253 for 7 against Afghanistan in Sharjah.
Zimbabwe had to tackle the same pitch on which they made the lowest total by a Full Member against an Associate nation in ODI history. There were two marked differences from the record-breaking events of Christmas day, though. Zimbabwe were chasing when Afghanistan’s spinners bundled them out for 82. Today, Elton Chigumbura called correctly at the toss and helped his team avoid scoreboard pressure and the complication of batting under lights. And given the best conditions to bat in, Zimbabwe’s 11th opening pair in 31 ODIs made a promising start.
Moor and Richmond Mutumbami found the new ball coming onto the bat and were able to hit through the line as they pleased. Only two of the first 10 overs did not feature a boundary. Tellingly for the dressing room morale, Moor clobbered two sixes down the ground in Amir Hamza’s second over and then waded into Mohammad Nabi’s first two balls with equal conviction.
The two Afghan spinners had picked up seven wickets and faced precious little resistance in the last match. Zimbabwe had slumped to 24 for 3 then, a foundation so limp that they were unable to chase down 132. Today though, they breezed to 71 for 0 as a result of sound planning and skillful execution. Moor for example, harvested half of his runs through and over mid-off, including two of his three sixes, to secure his maiden ODI fifty at a strike rate of 100.
But the ball began to age after 15 overs. It was stopping on the batsman off a good length on a typically slow Sharjah surface. Afghanistan picked up on that and trusted the experienced Nabi to turn things around. He did so with a beautifully crafted trap that turned the batsman’s strength against him. Moor had been eager to drive all day, so Nabi tossed the ball up wider, Moor lunged forward and his back leg left the safety of his crease, Nabi beat the outside edge, Mohammad Shahzad completed the stumping.
Five balls later, debutant left-arm spinner Rokhan Barakzai had Mutumbami caught and bowled and Afghanistan had effectively reset the match. Zimbabwe were up for it thanks to Ervine’s resourcefulness and helpful cameo from the returning Hamilton Masakadza.
They were able to keep up the pace simply by using the pace offered to them. Ervine was so prolific at it that he found 39 of his 73 runs behind the wicket. And as an added bonus his use of sweeps and reverse sweeps kept the pressure on the Afghanistan spinners. Masakadza was also quick to understand that his power game has a lesser chance of success of a slow, low Sharjah pitch. So he found 29 of his 47 runs through singles, and in doing so ensured Ervine took a lot of the strike. Their third-wicket partnership put 98 risk-free runs, barring one occasion when Williams could have been stumped on 43, and gave Zimbabwe’s lower order the freedom to play without worrying about wickets falling.
And they did fall with Dawlat Zadran generating reverse swing. Zimbabwe lost five batsmen in the last 11 overs, but they were able to buy 83 runs in the process.