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Zimbabwe 226 (Chibhabha 53, Moor 52, Rashid Khan 3-43, Hamza 2-31) v Afghanistan 161 (Shahzad 45, Shahidi 31. Chibhabha 4-25, Cremer 2-38) by 65 runs

Zimbabwe were defending 30 less than a total that was single-handedly gunned down by Mohammad Shahzad last week. Yesterday, Shahzad was left with the unenviable task of steering his team out of a proper top-order wobble if they had any chance of achieving the 227-run target to seal the series. But the pressure of a chase on a Sharjah deck that was superbly used as an ally by Graeme Cremer and Chamu Chibhabha as Zimbabwe won by 65 runs to take the series into the deciding final ODI tomorrow.

Normally known for his belligerence, Shahzad transformed himself into a slow accumulator, seemingly intent on batting himself into a position from where he could pull off a heist. Run-scoring wasn’t easy, and Zimbabwe’s fielders made the target look 20 more than it was. Eventually, the frustration of being unable to unfurl the big hits showed as Chibhabha, who conjured a fighting half-century earlier in the piece to give the bowlers something to defend, prised out the big fish with an in-dipper for a 72-ball 45, to leave Afghanistan in tatters at 88 for 5. Hashmatullah Shahidi held one end up, but Afghanistan’s freefall left him with little to work with. He fell for a valiant 31 as the wheels came off the chase soon after. Crèmer’s loopy legspin earned him two wickets, while Chibhabha had four scalps with his accurate seam-ups. Afghanistan were bowled out for 161 in 45 overs as Zimbabwe earned a shot of redemption as the series was back on an even keel.

Afghanistan’s batting approach upfront, at least in the series, has often bordered on the thin line between being aggressive and over-aggressive. But this time around, they seemed intent on proving the doubters wrong by showing they can possess a solid defensive game too. As a result, deliveries that would have otherwise been met with a fierce swing were either defended or left alone, and within the bat of an eyelid, they were under the nine-ball right from the start.

Nevill Madziva, the pacer, who relies on angles and late swing gave Zimbabwe their first breakthrough when he had Noor Ali Zadran nick one to Richmond Mutumbami. Five overs later, Asghar Stanikzai flicked a low full toss to midwicket to leave Afghanistan in trouble at 13 for 2. The early losses seemed to affect Shahzad’s shot-selection as he soon went into his shell.

The two-paced nature of the wicket that accounted for Rashid Khan’s wicket, when a leading edge was well taken by a diving Hamilton Masakazda at point, induced more doubts in Shahzad’s mind. But it wasn’t yet the crisis it turned out to be later, for there was hope at least till Mohammad Nabi was around. But his wicket simply threw Afghanistan’s innings off the wheels as they hurtled with every blow that came after, as Chibhabha’s middle-order wreckage left the tail with too much to do.

The effervescence of Zimbabwe’s efforts with the ball and on the field almost took the focus away from an insipid batting effort that resulted in them losing their last seven wickets for 56 runs. In two of the three ODIs so far in the series, Zimbabwe’s half-hearted approach towards shot making on sluggish pitches exposed their lower order much earlier than they would have liked. The end result was scores of 82 and 175.

Yesterday, the lower order faced a challenge of a different kind, as the top order, that got off to starts, fell to a succession of misguided strokes, to leave them in a hole, resulting in Zimbabwe failing to cash in on their 92-run opening stand between Chibhabha and Moor. After a slow start, Moor, who tallied all of 86 runs in five previous ODI innings, found his hitting range by hitting four sixes, all over deep midwicket off the spinners, to bring up a half-century. — Cricinfo


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