The first T20I will be crucial © Getty Images (File Photo)
The first T20I will be crucial © Getty Images (File Photo)

Zimbabwe and Afghanistan will face off in the first Twenty20 International (T20I) at Sharjah after a wholesome, thoroughly competitive One-Day International (ODI) series. Afghanistan won the ODI series by a 3-2 margin. The series was fiercely contested and witnessed some great individual performances on either side. Afghanistan were phenomenal in the series and the way they bounced back from the deciding fifth ODI encapsulated their spirit. Afghanistan’s previously fragile batting has become evidently improved under the nurturing of coach Inzamam-ul-Haq. Fittingly, the biggest beneficiary of his coaching seems to have been the similarly rotund Mohammad Shahzad. Shahzad was the top scorer for Afghanistan in the series having scored 237 runs at an average of 59.3 and a strike rate of over 90. FULL SCORECARD: Afghanistan vs Zimbabwe 2015-16, 1st T20I at Sharjah

Apart from him there were handy contributions from Noor Ali Zadran and Gulbadin Naib produced the match-winning performances required for Afghanistan to stage a comeback victory in the series decider. Their bowlers deserve greater credit for the series win than their batsmen. Amir Hamza and Dawlat Zadran picked 21 wickets between them. Their efforts were consolidated by some tight, accurate bowling in the spin department. Afghanistan retain 10th place in ICC ODI ranking following series win against Zimbabwe

Hamilton Masakadza was the pick of Zimbabwean batsmen. He was top-scorer in the series despite missing one game. His tally of 266 runs came at 66.5. They were also handy performances by Craig Ervine, Graeme Cremer and Peter Moor.

Zimbabwe’s bowling was not too bad either. In fact their seam bowlers looked lethal and often unplayable in the early overs. They however often failed to contain opposition batsmen later into the innings, a trait which also cost them the decider. Luke Jongwe was the best in the seam bowling department while Cremer was fantastic in the middle overs with his leg-spin and smart variations.

For Afghanistan the greatest worry will be their inconsistencies with the bat. In one match they were bowled out for 58, yet in another game they bounced back from a difficult position to chase almost 250. Zimbabwe will seek a greater team effort rather than just a few players contributing in a big way.

If the ODI series was any measure to go by, the first T20I will be a balanced affair. The teams will engage in only 2 T20Is, so the team that wins the first game will enjoy the security of their position in the series being unassailable. Hence, the first match will be crucial.

Squads:

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

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

(Rishad D’Souza, a reporter with CricketCountry, gave up hopes of playing Test cricket after a poor gully-cricket career. He now reports on the sport. You can follow @RDcric on Twitter)