IT’S been a hard grind for series parity in the Tests for Afghanistan, but today they enter the next round of tussle with Zimbabwe as clear favourites.
The two teams went into the Test series on rather equal footing, having not played the format in more than a year and with very similar win-loss rate since January 2018.
But put them through the statistical microscope in T20Is, and you will see Afghanistan’s rampant rise over the last three years. They have won 16 of the 20 matches played since January 2018 and by the end of that year, they rose to eighth spot in the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings to confirm direct qualification to the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup (WC), which will be held later this year. It was a testament to their progress in the format that they left behind the likes of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to fight it out in the two groups with the teams advancing from the qualifiers.
The progress chart for Zimbabwe, in contrast, has been rather grim. They have won only 5 of the 20 T20Is they’ve featured in since January 2018 and have seen more lows with time. In July 2019, they were suspended by the ICC for governance-related violation, and were denied participation in the T20 WC qualifier. The apex body replaced them with Nigeria. Zimbabwe did get reinstated as an ICC member later in October, but the fact remains that they have much ground to cover to even match up to their opponents over the next week.
Asghar Afghan has already earmarked this series as one to use as build-up for the two showpiece events coming up this year — Asia Cup and T20 WC, but for Zimbabwe, this could be a chance to find their feet in the format, and take small steps en route qualifiers for the next T20 world event early next year.
When: Afghan vs Zim, 1st T20I, today
Where: Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi
What to expect: This venue has been friendlier to teams bowling first. In 44 T20Is, 25 have been won by the chasing side. The trend held up during IPL 2020 as well [13 wins in 22 for teams bowling first]. The long square boundary dimensions at the Sheikh Zayed stadium also bring the bowlers into the game, with an average first innings score of 137 in T20Is there. During the IPL, it was the only venue where a 200-plus score was not made even once.
Afghanistan: Five players, including Gulbadin Naib and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, are doubtful for the series opener due to visa issues. It remains to be seen if the problem is resolved on time.
Squad: Asghar Afghan (c), Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, Rahmanullah Gurbaz (WK), Afsar Zazai (WK), Usman Ghani, Ibrahim Zadran, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najib Zadran, Karim Janat, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Amir Hamza Hotak, Fazal Haq Farooqi, Naveen ul Haq, Farid Malik.
Zimbabwe have added Faraz Akram, Milton Shumba and Tinashe Kamunhukamwe to the 15-man list that featured in the Test to make-up their T20I squad.
Squad: Sean Williams (c), Ryan Burl, Regis Chakabva, Faraz Akram, Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Kevin Kasuza, Wesley Madhevere, Wellington Masakadza, Prince Masvaure, Brandon Mavuta, Tarisai Musakanda, Richmond Mutumbami, Blessing Muzarabani, Richard Ngarava, Victor Nyauchi, Milton Shumba, Sikandar Raza, Donald Tiripano
What they said
“The T20I series comes at a good time for us as we prepare for the Asia Cup and T20 WC. It will give us a good idea.”— Asghar Afghan, Afghanistan captain — Cricbuzz