6 March 2018

Zimbabwe: Zim, Afghanistan in Mother of All Battles

After a massive win over Nepal at Queens Sports Club on Sunday, Zimbabwe face a defining moment in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier when they clash with their arch-rivals Afghanistan at the same venue today. If the Chevrons are to be seen as serious contenders to secure one of the two slots available in England next year, they have to beat Afghanistan.

A look at the statistics shows that Afghanistan head into the match as favourites. In 24 encounters between the two teams since 2014, Afghanistan have won 15 of them while Zimbabwe have been triumphant nine times.

While the first few contests between Zimbabwe and Afghanistan were always 50-50 situations, the Asians have surged ahead of late as shown by their recent 4-1 series victory on neutral territory in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

As Zimbabwe recorded a comfortable 116-run victory win over Nepal, across the city at Bulawayo Athletic Club, Afghanistan suffered a seven-wicket loss to Scotland. Zimbabwe's opening pair of Cephas Zhuwao and Solomon Mire set the foundation for Sikandar Raza as well as Brendan Taylor to score hundreds.

Man-of-the-match Sikandar Raza top scored with 123 runs while Brendan Taylor made exactly 100 as Zimbabwe posted 380 for the loss of six wickets.

An area of concern for coach Heath Streak is the failure to bowl out Nepal even after posting such a huge score.

Skipper Graeme Cremer conceded that the three seamers, who only took four wickets among them, were off the mark, something they cannot afford against Afghanistan.

While the batting looks settled with Zhuwao, Mire, Hamilton Masakadza, Taylor and Raza looking certain to keep their place, Streak has a lot of considerations to make regarding the bowling attack.

He can replace one the seamers with left arm spinner Tendai Chisoro, who is also a handy lower order batsman.

The other option would be to drop Malcolm Waller with Chisoro coming in his place. Raza described today's clash with Afghanistan as a match they have to win since their desire is to be in the final come 25 March.

"We have said on a lot of occasions that the game against Afghanistan is certainly a special game, people have called it a grudge match, for me it's just a game of qualifiers that we have to win, because come the 25th, when the final is, we need to be there," Raza said.

With entry into the match being free, Zimbabweans are again expected to turn out in their numbers, like they did on Sunday. Raza was grateful to the support they got from the thousands of fans who packed Queens Sports Club.

"To see all those numbers that came, I thought that was fantastic, it was brilliant to have all that kind of support," he said.

Afghanistan are certain to come out firing against Zimbabwe after their loss to Scotland. Explosive opening batsman Mohammad Shahzad, Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran and Mohammad Nabi will be key for the Asians with the bat.


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