Sean Williams picked 3 for 15 in Zimbabwe's 3rd ODI win    AFP
Sean Williams picked 3 for 15 in Zimbabwe’s 3rd ODI win AFP

“Nonetheless, cricket is a funny game and a do-or-die encounter may just bring out the best from a lowly Zimbabwe.” These were my lines while concluding the preview of third ODI between Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. As predicted, the African nation got the better of tourists, Afghanistan, by a whisker in a low-scoring encounter. However, the five-match series is still in Afghanistan’s favour (leading 2-1) as hosts will like to carry momentum from their hard-earned win at Harare. The big question still remains whether an inconsistent Zimbabwe will again be able to get hold of the visitors who appear to be more balanced on paper. Full Cricket Scorecard, Afghanistan vs Zimbabwe, 4th ODI, Harare

Consistently inconsistent

With scores of 99 for 4 (chasing 217), 184 and 129 all-out in all the three games, Zimbabwe batsmen have struggled on their own turf. Only two fifty-plus scores and a lacklustre middle order has kept things tight for the hosts. They will have to rotate the strike and apply themselves to play out their full quota of overs. If their batters can complement their bowlers, they will be able to keep the series alive till the last game. Defending 130 in the previous game, their bowlers responded to the task and have given a perfect example to the batsmen.

No room for complacency

It is not that Afghanistan batsmen have fared very well on the tour as well. With three fifty-plus scores and handful of starts, their batsmen have also not upped the ante when required. They must be agitated falling short in a small chase of 130 in the last match. Chasing a small target, they fell flat to poor strokeplay. Complacency must also have been a reason for their downfall. It was their best chance to close the series but, on the hindsight, have opened doors for home side’s comeback.

Not the first instance

Nonetheless, their sudden collapse was not the first such instance. In the first ODI, they were cruising at 156 for 3 before sliding to 169 for 7. The script remained the same in the second game. From 118 for 1, Afghanistan reduced to 194 for 5. It is clearly is the game of ‘middle overs’ for both sides in the series. If hosts are guilty of not applying themselves, visitors crumble in a bid to accelerate or when put under the lid.

What numbers say

In a bowlers’-dominated series, Tendai Chatara, Gulbadin Naib and Rashid Khan are on top. Chatara has shone with 8 scalps whereas Naib and Rashid have 7 wickets each. Another good outing awaits the trio which will push the batsmen in the remaining two games. Mohammad Shahzad (92), Asghar Stanikzai (87) and Craig Ervine (72) have some scores but need to play big innings for their side. Will crowds have something to cheer about and witness a high-scoring game?

Last word

Zimbabwe need to continue performing like they did defending 130. They did not get bogged down and exhibited a spirited show. On the other hand, Afghanistan succumbed to give an interesting angle to the remaining two clashes. They are a better side and will have to comeback hard. It remains to be seen how they counter attack to wrap up the series after a dismal show in the last tie. For now, they still appear to be favourites despite late bloomer and rather inconsistent Zimbabwe unit.

Squads:

Zimbabwe: Solomon Mire, Peter Moor (wk), Craig Ervine, Hamilton Masakadza, Ryan Burl, Tarisai Musakanda, Malcolm Waller, Graeme Cremer (c), Tendai Chatara, Chris Mpofu, Richard Ngarava, Sikandar Raza, Nathan Waller, Elton Chigumbura, Wellington Masakadza, Donald Tiripano, Carl Mumba

Afghanistan: Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Stanikzai (c), Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Amir Hamza, Aftab Alam, Fareed Ahmad, Karim Janat, Samiullah Shenwari, Ihsanullah Janat