Muzarabani, Raza efforts in vain as Afghanistan draw first blood
Afghanistan – 276-5 in 50 overs (Rahmat Shah 94, Hashmatullah Shahidi 88, Rashid Khan 39*; Blessing Muzarabani 4/52, Tanaka Chivanga 1/41)
Zimbabwe – 216 all out in 50 overs (Sikandar Raza 67, Innocent Kaia 39, Craig Ervine 30; Mohammad Nabi 4/34, Rashid Khan 2/39, Fazalhaq Farooqi 2/41)
Afghanistan won by 60 runs
Despite the fine bowling of Blessing Muzarabani and a fighting fifty from Sikandar Raza, Zimbabwe went down to Afghanistan by 60 runs in the first one-day international (ODI) match at Harare Sports Club on Saturday.
Zimbabwe won the toss and their captain, Craig Ervine, put Afghanistan in to bat on a cold, cloudy but dry winter morning.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran opened the batting against the attack of Muzarabani and Tendai Chatara.
These two bowled superb opening spells, making the tourists fight for their runs.
In the seventh over, with 21 runs on the board, Zadran was the first man to go, giving Muzarabani a return catch with his score only five off 18 balls, and the total 21.
After 10 overs from Zimbabwe’s two leading pacemen, the score had reached only 37 runs for the loss of Zadran.
Muzarabani was then replaced by Tanaka Chivanga, making his ODI debut for Zimbabwe.
With his fifth ball Chivanga found the edge of Gurbaz’s bat and had him well caught by Ervine at second slip for 17 – Afghanistan 38 for two.
Unfortunately, Chivanga and Donald Tiripano could not bowl with the same accuracy as the opening bowlers, and the new pair of Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi began to settle in and score more freely from some loose deliveries.
It took them 11 overs to bring up their fifty partnership, but the spinners, Wessly Madhevere and Ryan Burl, kept the scoring mainly to singles for a while.
The team hundred came up in the 25th over.
Shah on 42 drove a ball from Burl high towards the long-off boundary, but Madhevere running across was unable to hold a rather difficult chance.
Raza also bowled well when Madhevere was relieved, but the batters stayed in and Shah reached his fifty off 95 balls.
A few balls later Shahidi joined him with a half-century, which took him 75 balls.
This was in the 37th over, and the batters now began to open up and attack the bowling much more vigorously.
There followed a flurry of fours off Chivanga and Raza, and the score rose rapidly, 200 coming up in the 43rd over.
At this point Muzarabani and Chatara returned for their final spell, and although Shah hit Muzarabani brilliantly over long-on for six, that bowler had him in the next over, edging a cut that was superbly caught by the diving wicketkeeper Regis Chakabva.
Shah had made 94 off 120 balls, with three sixes and seven fours, and the score was now 219 for three in the 45th over, with the partnership having put on 181 together.
Chatara unfortunately was unable to repeat his excellent opening spell and the batters were able to hit him freely in the final overs.
Muzarabani also denied a century to Shahidi, who had scored 88 off 104 balls (13 fours) when he slashed wildly at a good ball and skyed a catch to Tiripano at third man.
This made the score 232 for four in the 47th over, and two balls later Mohammad Nabi went for 10, another skyer being caught by Milton Shumba running in from the cover boundary.
The next batter was Rashid Khan, famed as an outstanding leg-spin bowler, but recently he has also made his name as a ferocious hitter in the middle order.
He came in, swung at almost every ball, and enjoyed some lucky hits and misses.
He hit Muzarabani for a fortunate four and a superb six over long-on, and then in the final over Chatara went for 19 runs, including a six and two fours from Khan.
This innings was a killer for Zimbabwe, as he scored 39 not out off 17 balls (two sixes, four fours), and the score shot up to 276 for five after 50 overs.
Muzarabani after the final onslaught still finished with the good figures of four for 52 off nine overs, but Chatara’s 10 cost him 61 runs without a wicket, spoiled by a disappointing final spell.
The most economical bowlers were Madhevere and Burl, given only six overs each in the middle order which conceded 22 and 24 runs respectively.
Zimbabwe did not start their reply well: in the third over, with only five runs on the board, Chakabva (1) miscued a pull off Fazalhaq Farooqi and was caught at midwicket.
Ervine joined the debutant Innocent Kaia at the crease and the pair scored steadily for the second wicket to take the score to 66 in the 15th over.
At this point Ervine was smartly caught and bowled low down by the third seamer, Azmatullah Omarzai, for 30, which took him 40 balls and included five fours.
While Kaia continued to bat steadily, Madhevere began his innings impressively, only to pop a simple return catch to Mohammad Nabi after scoring 11 – 91 for three in the 22nd over.
At 104, Kaia’s solid innings came to an end, as he tried to flick a straight ball from Nabi to leg and was out lbw for 39, which came off 78 balls with three fours.
Raza and Shumba were now in partnership, but the required run rate had risen to eight an over.
Nabi struck again with his off-breaks when he produced a fine delivery that beat Shumba and had him out caught at the wicket for five – 124 for five after 32 overs.
Zimbabwe desperately needed Burl to play himself in and then launch an assault on the bowling, but it was not to be.
He scored 13 off 18 balls, before he became another victim of Nabi, playing down the wrong line to be bowled at 164 for six in the 40th over.
Raza, who had just reached his fifty off 61 balls, was now joined by Tiripano, the last of the recognised batters.
Nabi had now finished his destructive spell of 10 overs with four wickets for 34 runs.
The new pair hit out as best they could, but were unable to match the required run rate, which was now more than 10 an over.
Raza was finally out lbw to Khan, failing to spot his googly, for 67 – he was Zimbabwe’s highest scorer, facing 78 balls and hitting a six and six fours.
The score was 196 for seven, and with 81 needed to win off 6.2 overs, the match was clearly Afghanistan’s now.
Tiripano did not last long after that, completely beaten and bowled by a faster ball from Khan for 15, scored off 15 balls.
Muzarabani scored 10 before he was bowled having a big swing at a ball from Fareed Ahmad, and the innings came to an end for 216 off the last possible ball, Chatara being caught off Farooqi for eight.
Chivanga was not out without scoring.
Nabi of course returned the best bowling figures for Afghanistan, while Farooqi and Khan took two wickets each.
The second game of the three-match ODI series is scheduled for Monday.