Zimbabwe – 159-8 in 20 overs (Sikandar Raza 45, Wessly Madhevere 32, Regis Chakabva 29; Nijat Masood 3/39, Rashid Khan 1/21, Fazalhaq Farooqi 1/27)
Afghanistan – 160-4 in 19.2 overs (Hazratullah Zazai 45, Najibullah Zadran 44*, Rahmanullah Gurbaz 33; Ryan Burl 3/14, Luke Jongwe 1/34)
Afghanistan won by six wickets
An amazing three-wicket over by Ryan Burl for Zimbabwe almost turned the first Twenty20 International (T20I) match on its head after Afghanistan had dominated the game up to that point at Harare Sports Club on Saturday.
He had excellent support from Sikandar Raza as the two spinners bowled so well that the tourists found themselves needing 54 runs to win off the last four overs.
Unfortunately, the other bowlers lost their grip, and Afghanistan broke free again to seize a six-wicket victory with four balls to spare.
Zimbabwe won the toss on a partly sunny day and decided to bat.
Innocent Kaia opened the batting with Wessly Madhevere and drove a four in the first over, but in the third he came down the pitch and skyed a ball from Fazalhaq Farooqi on to the leg side and was caught for six off 10 balls.
Craig Ervine quickly hit a four, but Madhevere soon showed his form with four boundaries in quick succession.
Ervine hit two fours but was out for nine, a leading edge being caught and bowled by Nijat Masood at 42 for two after five overs, quite a brisk start.
Madhevere continued to play some fine strokes, and looked as if he might be on the verge of a major innings when he was beaten and bowled by a googly from Rashid Khan.
He scored 32 off 24 balls, with five fours, and was out at 64 for three in the ninth over.
In the same over, Milton Shumba scored only a single before he decided to come down the pitch to Mohammad Nabi, but was beaten and stumped at 66 for four, off a ball that was called a leg-side wide.
Regis Chakabva at last began to show signs of his true batting form and, with Raza as his new partner, he hit 29 off 24 balls before he tried to lap Masood to leg and skyed a catch behind the bowler for mid-off to make it 97 for five in the 14th over.
The pair had put on 31 in just over four overs, which proved to be the highest partnership of the innings.
Within the next two overs there were two brilliant run-outs through direct hits, which removed Burl for two and Luke Jongwe for five.
Zimbabwe were 127 for seven in the 17th over, but Raza was still there and he hit out superbly in a do-or-die effort for his team.
He hit two successive sixes off Masood, the first being above waist-height and therefore called as a no-ball, but off the next ball was brilliantly caught at short third man from an uppish cut.
He had scored 45 off 31 balls, with two sixes and three fours, and Zimbabwe were 148 for eight in the 19th over.
Ainsley Ndlovu and Tendai Chatara managed to scramble another 11 runs off the last nine balls so that the innings finished at 159 for eight wickets.
There had been some brilliant fielding from the tourists, whose most successful bowler, though expensive, was the medium-paced Masood, who in four overs took three for 39.
The Afghans had no difficulty in building the partnership they needed for victory.
Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz opened the innings with steady batting against the bowling of Chatara and Blessing Muzarabani, but pounced on Jongwe when he came on, hitting him for 24 runs in his two overs, with five fours.
The spinners Raza and Burl then put the brakes on the scoring, which tempted Gurbaz to go for a big hit against Burl, only to send up a big skyer to be caught by Chakabva after scoring 33 off 26 balls.
The batters had crossed and off the very next delivery Zazai, who had been the main aggressor, drove a catch to Raza at long-on, after making 45 off 26 balls.
Afghanistan were suddenly 83 for two wickets in the 11th over, which became 86 for three, as Usman Ghani (1) got an edge to the keeper as he swept at the final delivery.
Despite losing three wickets in an over, Afghanistan were still in a strong position after their excellent opening partnership, and now Darwish Rasooli and Najibullah Zadran were together as Zimbabwe sought to cripple their innings with more wickets.
The two batters concentrated on picking up singles and perhaps lost sight of the required run rate, as with five overs to go they suddenly found they needed 61 runs still to win, and Zimbabwe now held the advantage.
The 16th over, from Raza, brought only seven runs, and they now needed 54 runs off the last four.
However, the two spinners had finished their quotas of four overs, and when Muzarabani came on Zadran, apparently transformed, hit his first three balls for a four and two sixes.
It was an expensive over that swung the match back in favour of Afghanistan – it included a no-ball and two wides, and cost Zimbabwe 26 runs, so that now the target was down to 28 off the last three overs.
Jongwe bowled the 18th over and struck with his second legitimate delivery, bowling Rasooli for 11 with a slower ball – 134 for four.
Ten runs came off the over, however, leaving 18 needed off the last two.
Nabi, the next man in, was as so often the man to come through for Afghanistan, and he immediately smote Chatara for two fours.
The bowler, however, recovered to concede only two more singles, so eight runs were needed off the final over, which was bowled by Muzarabani, who had therefore a chance to atone for his bad over.
However, he was quite unable to do so as Zadran took two runs off his first delivery, and then pulled his second, a slower ball, over the square-leg boundary for six to win the match for Afghanistan with four balls to spare.
Muzarabani finished with the disappointing figures of no wicket for 55 runs off 3.2 overs.
Burl had the fine figures of three for 14 off his four overs, while Raza’s four only cost 16 runs.
The next T20I between the two sides will be played this Sunday at the same venue.