AFTER a hard-fought Test series where the honours were shared, the focus in Abu Dhabi shifts to the three T20Is that Afghanistan and Zimbabwe will play within the span of four days starting today.
Apart from the shared aim of winning the series, the two teams’ respective goals with the bigger picture in mind will be quite different.
Afghanistan will look to firm up their strongest team looking ahead to the Asia Cup and the T20 World Cup scheduled in India later this year.
Zimbabwe, meanwhile, will not be participating in the World Cup, having not taken part in the qualifier event since their board was suspended at that time.
They will look to show what the marquee event will miss in their absence.
One thing going Zimbabwe’s way – they are ranked 12th compared to their opponents’ 9th is that visa issues could force Afghanistan to play without their strongest XI.
Five of their players – including Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Gulbadin Naib – are yet to arrive in the UAE, which has forced their selectors to revise their squad with players who were around from the Test series who otherwise weren’t in contention for the T20Is.
In nine previous T20I meetings between the two sides, Zimbabwe have just one win.
And they have lost all five of their T20Is in 2020.
But they’ll be hungry to prove a point without World Cup action to look forward to, and a weakened Afghanistan side could balance the scales considerably.
If they can keep Rashid Khan quiet, they might just stand a pretty good chance.
In the spotlight Fresh off an 11-wicket match haul in the second Test, Rashid Khan continues to be Afghanistan’s No.1 weapon in the format. In the last 12 months, he has taken 48 T20 wickets at an average of 18.85 while conceding just 6.14 runs an over.
Those are elite numbers but he has done even better in his 16 matches in the UAE, with an average of 17.20 and an economy rate of 5.37.
With two global tournaments approaching, Afghanistan could be tempted to make more use of his big-hitting skills as well, so don’t be surprised if he gets a promotion wit the bat.
Zimbabwe’s batsmen could face a difficult time against the spinners, but their bowlers could cause some problems too, particularly with Blessing Muzarabani leading the attack.
In his nine T20Is, the tall right-arm quick has taken two or more wickets on six occasions, including a career-best 3 for 21 against Australia.
The visa issue could force Afghanistan to field an XI that looks markedly different to the one that featured in their last white-ball outing earlier in the year.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Rahmanullah Gurbaz, 2 Usman Ghani, 3 Karim Janat, 4 Asghar Afghan (capt), 5 Mohammad Nabi, 6 Najibullah Zadran, 7 Afsar Zazai (wk), 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Naveen Ul Haq, 10 Amir Hamza, 11 Fareed Ahmad.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Prince Masvaure, 2 Tinashe Kamunhukamwe/Kevin Kasuza, 3 Wesley Madhevere, 4 Sean Williams (capt), 5 Sikandar Raza, 6 Ryan Burl, 7 Milton Shumba, 8 Regis Chakabva (wk), 9 Donald Tiripano, 10 Wellington Masakadza, 11 Blessing Muzarabani.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch in Abu Dhabi is expected to be good to bat on under lights, although the large boundaries could keep the sixes in check. It should be a warm, dry evening.
Stats and trivia
**The last time these two teams met in a T20I game, in Chattogram in 2019, Zimbabwe beat Afghanistan for the first time in nine attempts.
**Rashid is six wickets away from becoming the seventh man (and fourth spinner) to take 350 wickets in the format.
**If he scores 28, Sean Williams will go past Elton Chigumbura (893 runs) and Brendan Taylor (909) to become Zimbabwe’s second-highest T20I run-getter behind Hamilton Masakadza (1662) – ESPNCricInfo.