Afghanistan hold nerve to clinch thriller in high-scoring clash

Toss Afghanistan 187 for 7 (Ghani 42, Naib 37, Cremer 3-17) beat Zimbabwe 182 fpr 7 (Waller 49*, Masakadza 33, Zadran 3-32) by 5 runs
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Mohammad Shahzad’s 63-run opening stand with Usman Ghani set the base for Afghanistan’s imposing 187 © Chris Whiteoak

Gulbadin Naib and Mohammad Nabi are as different as chalk is to cheese. Naib is all muscle and brute force, while Nabi is an artist, who can leave you spell bound with his timing. In front a vociferous Friday crowd in Sharjah, a majority of whom rooted for Afghanistan, it was the Naib-Nabi show that lifted Afghanistan out of a middle-order slump orchestrated by Graeme Cremer, and paved way for a nervy five-run win in the first T20 against Zimbabwe.

Naib and Nabi put together 57 in just 23 balls for the sixth-wicket to give Afghanistan the trigger for a final flourish as they hammered 66 off the last five overs to finish with 187 for 7 after opting to bat. While Naib made a 20-ball 37 courtesy two fours and three sixes, the more experienced Nabi matched him stroke-for-stroke to smash a 10-ball 26 as the wheels came off the Zimbabwe attack. The belligerence of the stand turned around a game that looked completely different when Cremer’s three-wicket burst that tied them into knots, albeit for a brief while, could have proved to be a major talking point on another night.

Hamilton Masakadza and Richmond Mutumbami came out swinging as Afghanistan’s bowlers repeatedly missed their lengths. The result was a first half of their innings, with Zimbabwe wiped out 95 in 11 overs, despite losing to early wickets. But the pressure of the asking rate and some tight bowling by the spinners following Masakadza’s down fall to a reverse sweep allowed Afghanistan a foot in the door, But Zimbabwe weren’t giving up as Sikandar Raza and Malcolm Waller continued to keep the fight going. Aiding them along the way was some heavy dew and some poor death bowling that kept finding the ropes.

With 60 needed off the last five overs, Zimbabwe were in with a slim chance. Waller swung his way to more runs in this innings alone than he had done in the preceding ODI series, while Elton Chigumbura found his hitting range to bring it down to 21 off the last over. Asghar Stanikzai’s decision to keep his premier pacer Dawlat Zadran worked, but by only just.

More to follow…..

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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