Afghanistan Storms Into Super 10s With Big Win
Mohammad Shahzad didn’t look happy sitting in the dressing room as his team-mates looked uncomfortable in the middle overs against Zimbabwe on a seriously hot Saturday (March 12) afternoon at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur.
Things improved soon enough, though, and he must have been happy with how it ended, as Afghanistan put up 186 for 6 and then kept Zimbabwe down to 127 to script a 59-run win and an entry into the Super 10s of the World Twenty20.
There were moments when Shahzad was evidently displeased with the shots Samiullah Shenwari and Mohammad Nabi went for as they added 98 runs for the fifth wicket to help Afghanistan sneak out of a sticky situation early on after winning the toss and electing to bat. Still, Shahzad seemed to think they could have done better, probably because had he stayed on for longer than the 23 minutes he took to smash 40 from 23 balls, Afghanistan might have scored even more – not to say the big total, scored at 9.35, was mediocre by any yardstick.
The only time Shahzad looked genuinely happy and did not come down on his mates was when Afghanistan’s disciplined bowlers ended Zimbabwe’s misery. The big win was not only the outcome of indomitable spirit and excellent execution, it was also reward for getting on top of the situation every time it threatened to slip out, though there were very few of those moments.
After Shahzad got Afghanistan off to a flier, where it had 49 runs — 40 of which came from the rotund opener — from the first 28 balls, Tinashe Panyangara, Wellington Masakadza and Sean Williams brought Zimbabwe right back in the game by picking up four quick wickets.
Shahzad, who attempted an unnecessary reverse sweep and hit it straight to Hamilton Masakadza at point off Williams, was the first to go. Gulbadin Naib and Noor Ali Zadran looked good while they were there but bad luck for Naib and a poor shot from Noor Ali cost Afghanistan more ground. Asghar Stanikzai, the skipper, was dismissed in his second ball after that.
At 63 for 4 from eight overs, Afghanistan was in need of stability and, if possible, some quick runs as well. Zimbabwe’s bowlers had done their bit to get back in the game and Afghanistan was on the mat. It began to look increasingly pinned to the floor as Shenwari and Nabi struggled to lay bat on ball on a pitch that was slower than the one used in the first four games of the first round.
Wellington could have added to Afghanistan’s woes had Richmond Mutumbami gathered a sharp turner and stumped Nabi, who stepped down the track tentatively in the 14th over when on 20 from 15 balls. The very next over, Shenwari heaved Sikandar Raza a few metres in front of Malcolm Waller, who took a moment too long at deep midwicket and the ball bounced just short of him.
The over after the dropped chance, Nabi smacked Wellington for 21 runs to turn his figures of 3-1-10-0 to 4-1-31-0. Then it was Shenwari’s turn to make Zimbabwe pay as he belted two fours and a six in Panyangara’s final over. Afghanistan was also helped by the 17 wides, which were an effect of poor bowling and mediocre wicketkeeping from Mutumbami.
Shenwari eventually fell to a slower ball from Donald Tiripano in the 19th over after his 37-ball 43 and Nabi was the next to go for 52 from 32 balls. But, by the time the duo was done, Afghanistan had reached a total that seemed well out of Zimbabwe’s reach.
The star of the innings was definitely Shahzad. He did have some trouble against Wellington, but when the paceman came on his eyes lit up. It began with a cross-batted, full-blooded slap over Tendai Chatara’s head in the second over. The next ball was a vicious cut past a stationary point fielder. Then came a textbook pull over the short fine-leg fielder. And then an unconvincing attempt to clear cover, which anyway ended up running past wide third man for the fourth consecutive boundary.
That high was followed by watchfully playing out Wellington, but when Tiripano was brought on, Shahzad was back to being the force that he is. A cheeky upper cut with little room to execute the shot, a length ball hit off the back foot through cover with great force and then a late cut guided past backward point.
Hamilton saved Wellington for later and called on Williams and it seemed like a big mistake as Shahzad creamed him for a six over long-off first ball.
Zimbabwe is all too familiar with the zone Shahzad was in; he had smashed 118 from 67 balls not too long ago. Fortunately for it, the blitz ended in that same over.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe failed to get anything else go its way. Afghanistan’s shrewd bowling, led by Rashid Khan’s 3 for 11 and Hamid Hassan’s 2 for 11, also had a large part to play in bringing about its fifth consecutive loss against the side in as many Twenty20 Internationals.