Cricket is a game of confidence. He found Afghanistan, finding a spark in the first Test in which they were deceived within two days, he found a week later in the second Test. And they’ve taken that to their favorite form, the T20s, breaking a little sweat in seeing Zimbabwe in the opener of the series.
Rashid Khan, a global T20 superstar, one of the architects in their second level test, will magically work for themselves. His presence automatically builds a young side, with many slowly spreading their wings in leagues like the BBL, CPL and the Abu Dhabi T10. His four overs are usually an insurance policy when defending or under constant attack from opponents.
While living up to Wednesday’s fame as well, open star Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who showed ferocity to his bat to make a 45-ball 87 at the top of the order. Afghan Asghar, entering with just his fiftieth fourth T20I in his 64th innings, may be away from some of the “is he good enough” debates. Just a week ago, it also became the second test percentage in the country. And it goes well for Afghanistan: the batting of not relying on just one or two people alone is something they would want to cultivate while building up to the T20 World Cup in India in October.
Zimbabwe does not have such immediate requirements, as they will not play in that show event after being eligible for administrative reasons – their board was suspended at the time of the qualification. But there’s plenty of pride involved and a chance to look a year into the future, when another T22 World Cup takes place in Australia in 2022.
For some time now, Zimbabwe’s record has not been explained. So it’s a good sign to get intense games like this in four weeks alone. Now the next step for them is to get over the batting dependence on Sean Williams and Sikandar Raza, if they are going to put up highs or run down scores as they were against 199 in the first T20I. There is also a streak for breaking. They have lost all five of their last T20Is, including nine of the last 10 against Afghanistan.
Afghanistan: WLWWW (completed T20Is, first latest first)
Zimbabwe: : LLLLL
Twenty years old Karim Janat, an Afghan brother, becomes a runway. He first showed glimpses of his brilliance against the West Indies in November 2019, after being selected to be a talking point because at that point, he had averaged 31 with the bat, while and his bowling numbers weren’t so impressive either. He then defeated West Indies in full force by making the first 26-ball free 26 and then taking 5 for 11, the best T20I figures in Afghanistan, in a win. Over the past year, although his bowling has improved tremendously, he has gone a little late with the bat. For an opener, he has yet to hit the T20I half-century. Can he Friday?
Renowned batting talent at 16, Wesley Madhevere found the transition to international cricket difficult. A member of both the Under-19 World Cup teams and a heavyweight signer for the Eagles in domestic cricket, Madhevere was struggling to run a tour. He has made two ducks in his first two test innings and, on Wednesday, managed just 2 before being foxed by Rashid trying to slow down. He talks about the confidence of the side, perhaps, that he’s also getting a low-level 7 battery right now. He didn’t bowl either in the opening game, so there’s a lot to prove.
Park and conditions
Abu Dhabi is likely to have a good surface, but one of the square borders will be much shorter. The heat at this time of year is not yet intense by UAE standards, but it will still test the fitness and endurance of the players nonetheless.
Most likely XIan
The status of Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Gulbadin Naib remains unclear after the pair were among a group of five players whose UAE visas have been suspended.
Afghanistan (probably): 1 Rahmanullah Gurbaz, 2 Usman Ghani / Gulbadin Naib, 3 Karim Janat, 4 Afghan Asghar (capt), 5 Mohammad Nabi, 6 Najibullah Zadran, 7 Afsar Zazai (wk), 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Naveen Ul Haq , 10 Amir Hamza, 11 Fareed Ahmad / Mujeeb Ur Rahman
Zimbabwe (possibly): 1 Tarisai Musakanda, 2 Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, 3 Sean Williams (capt), 4 Sikandar Raza, 5 Ryan Burl, 6 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 7 Wesley Madhevere, 8 Donald Tiripano, 9 Brandon Mavuta, 10 Blessing Muzarabani , 11 Richard Ngarava
Stats and trivia
- Mohammad Nabi, who is now just a white ball player, did not lift a wicket in his last 12 T20I bowling innings. This is the longest streak without a wicket for any player who bowls regularly in this format.
- Rashid Khan will make his 50th T20I appearance on Friday.
- Rashid is currently the fourth-highest catcher in the men’s T20Is, by Shakib Al Hasan. He needs two more wickets to pass Tim Southee (93 wickets). Lasith Malinga (107) and Shahid Afridi (98) are in the top two appearances
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo