Naib on song as Afghanistan edge past Zimbabwe in T20 thriller
PESHAWAR (Pajhwok): Flush with their stunning success in the One-Day International (ODI) series, Afghanistan pipped Zimbabwe in the first T20 match at the Sharjah International Cricket Stadium on Friday.
Skipper Asghar Stanikzai won the toss and elected to bat first on the batting-friendly surface, a decision that paid off. Disciplined team work, brainy field adjustments, as well as smart bowling changes, saw them post a commanding total of 186 for the loss of seven wickets.
Right from the word go, the Afghans were in a punishing mood, as Mohammad Shahzad hit three towering sixes and two fours in his breezy 33-run knock. He played 17 balls before being clean-bowled by Graeme Cremer.
Osman Ghani, who kept a cool head while making intelligent use of loose deliveries, helped his partner in providing a brisk opening stand of 50 run in just five overs. Caught by Moore off Sikandar Raza, Ghani smashed 42 off 38 balls, including a sixer and five shots to the fence.
The openers were given a standing ovation by a big holiday crowd, including many Afghans -- some holding life-size portraits of their favourite players and others having painted Afghanistan’s flag on their smiling faces.
But the Zimbabweans rocked Afghanistan’s middle-order after the departure of the openers. Asghar Stanikzai (8) was sent back to the pavilion by Cremer, who went on to have Karim Sadiq (16) caught by Chibhabha.
Gulbadin Naib -- the architect of Afghanistan’s spectacular win in the last One-Day International on Wednesday at the same venue took to the crease amid prolonged applause. He joined Mohammad Nabi in a determined effort to rebuild the run-scoring momentum.
Just when they had the bowlers on the ropes, Nabi was caught by Raza off Chisoro for 26, studded with three sixes and a four. But his wonderful strike rate of more than 236 gave the team the boost needed in the dying moments of the game.
Naib once again appeared to be the man of the moment, whacking three sixes and two boundaries in his 37-run knock. While getting run out in the last over after facing 20 balls, his strike rate was exactly 185.
Set a target of 188, Zimbabwe took a shaky a start, as opener PJ Moore was caught by Najibullah Zadran in the cover off Dawlat Zadran in the first over. Zadran struck for a second time in the third over, removing CJ Chibhabha for 18.
Four overs later, Naib bowled an absolute beauty to get Richmond Mutumbami caught at the hands of Rashid Khan. Importantly, the Zimbabweans kept the scoreboard ticking, despite the loss of wickets at regular intervals.
Declared the man of the match for his superb all-round performance, Naib produced the next breakthrough in the 12th over when R Mutumbami lobbed a lollypop into Nabi’s reliable hands. The next batsman in, Sikandar Raza (19), was stumped off Amir Hamza. Wicketkeeper Shahzad, having floored several catches, made amends this time.
Zadran threw the eventful final over, beginning with a wide and then bowling two no-balls. Zimbabwe needed 11 from the last three deliveries. Palpably under immense pressure, Zadran had danger man Jongwe caught on the fence to pull off a sensational five-run victory for his side on the last ball.
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