ZIMBABWE – Zimbabwe’s bowling attack has shown better adaptability on slow Sharjah decks, with Nevill Madziva and Graeme Cremer central to their plans © Chris Whiteoak
The series was nearly dead and buried when Afghanistan, cruising high and happy on a 2-0 lead, reduced Zimbabwe to 45 for 7 a short distance into the third ODI. Then Afghanistan took their foot off the pedal and slipped into their comfort zone in anticipation of a second successive series win. Half an hour’s indiscretion followed, and before they realised it, Zimbabwe had put up 175. Then they came out playing to the gallery, only to be brutally exposed against the swinging ball to give Zimbabwe an opening, which they tore into on Monday courtesy Chamu Chibhabha’s allround show. As a result, Afghanistan, who slipped at the first sign of turbulence, find themselves vulnerable, with plenty of doubt lingering over the temperament of the batsmen heading into the series decider.
Cricket is often a confidence game, and there is little doubt as to which is the happier camp at the moment. For every step taken, Zimbabwe have often found ways to go back two steps. One such instance was their series loss to Afghanistan at home in October. Having started 2016 with two successive wins, the onus is on them to ride the momentum and make amends for that loss, for a slip-up here could also mean they will be edged out of the top 10 in the ICC ODI rankings.
Afghanistan have relied heavily on Mohammad Shahzad with the bat and their plethora of spin options with the ball. The lean patch of Asghar Stanikzai and Mohammad Nabi hasn’t helped, and has put more pressure on Shahzad to alter his natural style of play and transform from an attacking batsman to an accumulator. Zimbabwe have been a little more rounded. Chibhabha aside, Graeme Cremer’s loopy legspin and Nevill Madziva’s late swing have accounted for a bulk of the batsmen in the middle overs. Hamilton Masakadza’s form has somewhat covered up for the inability of Sikandar Raza and Malcolm Waller to notch up scores of substance. Wednesday will be another chance to correct that.
(Last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
In the fourth ODI, Chamu Chibhabha became only the sixth Zimbabwean after Prosper Utseya, Andy Blignaut, Neil Johnson, Gary Crocker and Duncan Fletcher to achieve the double of a half-century and four wickets. He showed all the virtues of a good opener – left well, played late, held his composure initially, put away the loose deliveries. The disappointment of not carrying on was writ large on his face when he mistimed a pull to midwicket. He later admitted his batting was still a work in progress, particularly when it came to pacing his innings. He will have another opportunity to make amends in a crunch clash.
Mohammad Nabi, Afghanistan’s highest run-getter in ODIs, has scores of 17, 33, 0 and 11 in his four innings so far. He has been unusually subdued and hasn’t been able to express himself in the manner that has brought him a bulk of his 1443 runs. With Samiullah Shenwari also being left out, Nabi’s return to form is vital for a predominantly top-heavy batting line-up. While Mohammad Shahzad’s belligerence is capable of ensuring they don’t miss their most accomplished batter, Afghanistan could be found wanting if law of averages catch up with their wicketkeeper-batsman.
The move to send Malcolm Waller in at No. 3 in the fourth ODI didn’t pay off. More importantly, it disturbed Masakadza’s rhythm. Zimbabwe’s most accomplished batsman could slot back in at his preferred slot, especially if Zimbabwe bat first on what is expected to be another slow Sharjah deck. With the team winning two games on the bounce, the only change they could possibly ponder is the return of Craig Ervine, who has fully recovered from a flu that kept him out of the third ODI, in place of Waller. That would mean somewhat countering Afghanistan’s spin threat by having a left-hander in the middle order.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Peter Moor, Chamu Chibhabha, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Craig Ervine, 5 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Richmond Mutumbami(wk), 8 Luke Jongwe, 9 Graeme Creamer, 10 Neville Madziva, 11 Tendai Chisoro
With Stanikzai and Nabi not in the best of nick, there is a case to push Karim Sadiq, a regular opener till not too long ago, up the order. But two successive batting meltdowns would have invited a fair amount of soul-searching. If they want some experience in a crunch clash, they could go back to Nawroz Mangal, the former captain.
Afghanistan (probable) : 1 Noor Ali Zadran, 2 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 3 Mohammad Nabi, 4 Asghar Stanikzai (capt), 5 Rashid Khan, 6 Hashmatullah Shahidi, 7 Najibullah Zadran/Nawroz Mangal, 8 Mirwais Ashraf, 9 Dawlat Zadran, 10 Amir Hamza, 11 Shafiqullah
Pitch and conditions
Captains winning the toss have had no hesitation in batting first so far. The trend is unlikely to be disturbed, considering both sides will not want to fall back on the pressure of having to chase in a must-win game. The ball has nipped around under lights too, and cooler weather conditions at this time of the year should help the fielding side in the second session.
Stats and trivia
- A win in the fifth ODI will give Afghanistan only their second series win against a Full Member and strengthen their position at No. 10 in the ICC ODI rankings
- Peter Moor and Chamu Chibhabha’s 92-run opening stand is the highest of the series from both sides.