ZIMBABWE cricket fans these days no longer have big expectations for their side following a continued slump in form across formats which has seen them playing second fiddle even to Associate nations.
That said, and following the 3-2 defeat at the hands of Afghanistan in the just ended One Day International Series in Sharjah, the Chevrons would need to bounce back in the first Twenty20 International at the same venue today at least to salvage what is left of their pride in a dress rehearsal of next month’s ICC World T20 to be hosted by India.
The rivalry between Afghanistan and Zimbabwe is still at a nascent stage, but it is proving to be a gripping one. When the teams met in 2014, the One-Day International series ended in a 2-2 deadlock.
Then, in 2015, Afghanistan pipped Zimbabwe, in their own backyard, 3-2 in the ODIs and 2-0 in Twenty20 Internationals.
The latest ODI series defeat on neutral venue must have left the Zimbabweans looking for nothing short of revenge.
But such is the pace of the game in the modern era that there’s little time to bask in the afterglow or agonise over what happened, with a two-match T20I series starting today.
The matches will help both teams fine-tune for the ICC World T20 in India, starting in February. Additionally, it will give Afghanistan a good idea of what to expect when they meet Zimbabwe in the Group B game in Nagpur on March 12, especially given the similar spinner-friendly conditions in India.
Zimbabwe has threaded the line between erratic and excellent in the ODI series. With the bat, Hamilton Masakadza has led the way, with 266 runs in four games at 66.50 and a century in the decider.
Bowling wise, Luke Jongwe and Graeme Cremer impressed. Wellington Masakadza, the left-arm spinner who was the highest wicket-taker in the ODI series against the same opposition two months ago, was benched after two games and with no Sean Williams due to a groin injury, Zimbabwe may have to shuffle their XI.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan had different players putting their hands up. Amir Hamza and Dawlat Zadran shared 21 wickets between themselves. Mohammad Shahzad brought up his highest score, an unbeaten 131, in the second game.
And in the last ODI, Gulbadin Naib, playing for the first time in the series, hit a steely unbeaten 82 off 68 balls to take the side across the line.
With the result helping Afghanistan break into the top 10 in the ODI rankings, they will be flying high and backing themselves to win the T20Is.
But Zimbabwe will be hurting, and if they learn from where they slipped up on Wednesday night, another cracker awaits in the 20-over format.