A WEEK hasn’t even passed yet in the World Twenty20, but a final is already in the offing. Well, a final of sorts.
Zimbabwe and Afghanistan face each other in a shoot out for a place in the main draw, after two wins each.
The full member, though, isn’t the favourite.
Afghanistan are ranked ninth, two places above Zimbabwe, and hold the advantage. Zimbabwe have never beaten Afghanistan in T20 internationals in four attempts.
Zimbabwe’s performance has been sloppy in this tournament, but they scrambled to wins over Hong Kong and Scotland. Afghanistan’s wins, on the other hand, have been more emphatic.
Afghanistan have hit rhythm with a batting line-up in which everybody has contributed, supporting a largely varied attack.
Zimbabwe are still searching for theirs. Their most in-form batsman, captain Hamilton Masakadza, has been run-out in both matches and the top order hasn’t provided bright starts for the middle order to build on.
Zimbabwe’s bowling is their stronger suit, but they tend to let things drift.
Zimbabwe need to step up in all departments if they are to put it across Afghanistan. Neutral fans are likely to back Afghanistan, the darlings of global events in recent years, and a side with the potential to topple full members.
(last five completed games most recent first)
Zimbabwe W W W W L
Afghanistan W W W W L
In the spotlight
Afghanistan’s top three have been aggressive upfront with scores 68 for 0 and 79 for 1 in the first 10 overs of their previous two matches, but they will face their biggest challenge in Zimbabwe’s seamers, who have the craft to tie down the batsmen in the opening passages. In their two matches, Zimbabwe had reduced the opposition to 48 for 2 and 61 for 5 at the halfway stage. Mohammad Shahzad, Noor Ali Zadran and Asghar Stanikzai will have to be wary of the threat posed by the seamers as well as left-arm spinner Wellington Masakadza.
Zimbabwe have stuck to the same XI for both matches, but they may consider strengthening their batting by adding either wicketkeeper-batsman Peter Moor or all-rounder Chamu Chibhabha in the middle order. They may have to leave out Malcolm Waller to do that. Vusi Sibanda, who needed four stitches on his chin, and did not take the field in the chase, after colliding with Hamilton while attempting a quick single on Thursday, has been passed fit to play.
Zimbabwe: (probable) 1 Hamilton Masakadza, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 4 Sean Williams, 5 Sikandar Raza, 6 Peter Moor/Chamu Chibhabha/Malcolm Waller, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Donald Tiripano, 9 Wellington Masakadza, 10 Tinashe Panyangara, 11 Tendai Chatara
Hamid Hassan replaced Amir Hamza in the Afghanistan XI that beat Hong Kong but the side may be tempted to recall the left-arm spinner on these sluggish tracks.
Afghanistan: (probable) 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Noor Ali Zadran, 3 Asghar Stanikzai (capt), 4 Mohammad Nabi,5 Gulbaddin Naib, 6 Shafiqullah, 7 Dawlat Zadran, 8 Najibullah Zadran, 9 Samiullah Shemwari, 10 Rashid Khan, 11 Hamid Hassan/Amir Hamza
Pitch and conditions
The Nagpur surface seemed to slow down from Tuesday to Thursday. So if the trend continues, run-scoring will be more difficult on Saturday, although Afghanistan’s batting line-up is in form.
Of more interest will be the crowd. Tuesday’s opener had taken place in front of a sparse crowd (182 approximately) and things went bad on Thursday, when some fans were locked out of the stadium because of a ticketing fiasco. Since this is the first match on a weekend, the turnout may increase. Saturday will also be a furnace in Nagpur with temperatures set to hit 40 degrees.
Stats and trivia
Afghanistan have won 16 of their last 20 T20 matches, dating back to March 2014, including four victories over Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe have never beaten Afghanistan in a T20 and have lost eight of the 14 ODIs they have played against them.
“They just want to make a mark in world cricket and prove people wrong, and (prove) that they are good enough to play at this level. They have done everything right; they have played aggressively in this format to give themselves the best chance. More often than not, when you are aggressive in this format, you will come up trumps.
“Not many expected Afghanistan to (beat us) — they are forever underdogs and you are different when you are an underdog.”
Zimbabwe batting consultant Marvan Atapattu on what has driven Afghanistan’s recent success, particularly against Zimbabwe. — Cricinfo.