Afghanistan A one away from completing whitewash after Zim A crash again
Despite an innings of 62 by Tino Mutombodzi, Zimbabwe A put up an insipid batting performance in the fourth unofficial one-day international to lose their fourth match of the series, which had to be calculated according to the Duckworth-Lewis method.
After three successive defeats, Zimbabwe A made four changes to their team for this match at Harare Sports Club.
Brian Chari, Carl Mumba, Neville Madziva and Ryan Murray were all omitted and replaced by Malcolm Waller, Victor Nyauchi, Mutombodzi and Richard Ngarava.
Ngarava, the Under-19 left-arm pace bowler, was making his début in senior representative cricket.
On winning the toss on a good pitch in warm, fairly dry and partly cloudy conditions, Afghanistan A put in the hosts to bat first.
The openers, Innocent Kaia and PJ Moor, began cautiously against accurate bowling, and only two runs, one of them a wide, came off the first two overs.
Then Moor hit a handsome four through the covers, only to poke at a delivery from Nawaz Khan two balls later and edge a straight-forward catch to the keeper; nine for one in the fourth over.
After eight overs the score had reached only 19, but then, just as the batsmen seemed to be finding their confidence, Tarisai Musakanda (9) drove at a ball outside the off stump from Nawaz Khan and was given out caught at the wicket; 26 for two.
With Kaia struggling for runs and Ryan Burl settling in, the scoring rate dropped to two an over, but gradually they both began to pick off ones and twos fairly regularly.
The team fifty did not come up until the 20th over.
The partnership added 44 at three an over before Kaia finally fell, swatting a ball from Ziaurrahman Akbar to midwicket for 33 off 83 balls; Zimbabwe A were 70 for three in the 24th over, a worrying scoring rate.
Malcolm Waller, restored to the team, was the first batsman to challenge the supremacy of the bowlers.
Right from the start he got the ball moving for ones and twos off almost every ball, but Burl, trying to emulate him, pushed at a ball from Nawaz Khan outside the off stump and was well caught low down by the keeper; 95 for four in the 30th over.
Later that over Waller, now joined by Mutombodzi, struck a handsome four through the covers to bring up the team hundred.
But then, having scored 25 off 26 balls, he tried to pull a ball from Nawaz Khan and was caught by mid-on running round, leaving Zimbabwe A at 104 for five after 31 overs.
After this dismissal it was back to batting without self-belief for the Zimbabwean players, and the scoring rate returned to dismal.
At the 40-over mark the score was a totally inadequate 140 for five wickets.
The second round of drinks was taken at this point, as for the most part Afghanistan A had been bowling their spinners, and the Zimbabwean batsmen had scarcely been making the fielders use up time chasing the ball.
Mutombodzi and Nathan Waller were pushing the score along in ones and twos, but without urgency, as if quite unaware of the desperate need to take risks to have any chance of presenting Afghanistan A with a challenging target.
They put on 53 in 12 overs before Nathan Waller fell lbw to Mohammad Ibrahim for 22 off 40 balls, a disappointing effort considering his usual vigorous style of batting; 158 for six in the 44th over.
Mutombodzi now decided it was time to hit out, and reached his fifty off 53 balls.
This would normally be considered a good rate of scoring, but only in the latter part of his innings had he sought to dominate the bowling.
Wellington Masakadza went for seven, caught at deep cover, and then Mutombodzi holed out at deep midwicket for 62, scored from 62 balls, making the score 193 for eight in the 49th over.
A snick and a slog by Tendai Chatara brought up the 200 later in the same over, and the total finished on 212 for eight wickets; Chatara’s 13 not out came off five balls.
Forty-two runs came off the last five overs, but it was a case of too little, too late – the home side had long since ensured that they would not post a really competitive total.
Although Afghanistan A had used their spinners for most of the innings, it was actually their two seamers who took the most wickets: Nawaz Khan had five for 51 and Ibrahim two for 33.
If Zimbabwe A were to have any chance of pulling off a shock victory after such a batting performance, they could only do it by taking 10 wickets, not by trying to save runs.
It was therefore disappointing to see Chatara and Ngarava opening the bowling with just a single slip as the only close fielder apart from the wicketkeeper.
Nevertheless the value of the slip was shown immediately, as Imran Janat, after cracking a boundary through the covers, edged the last ball of the opening over from Chatara straight to the slip, and Afghanistan A were five for one.
Chatara and Ngarava bowled well and only 11 runs came off the first five overs, but with a reasonable target to chase the batsmen were not under pressure.
Masakadza came on to bowl the ninth over with his left-arm spin, and he immediately picked up the wicket of Karim Sadiq, who edged the ball to the keeper for 14, reducing the Afghans to 34 for two.
Two overs later, Masakadza also removed Younas Ahmadzai, the century-maker of last Tuesday’s match, caught at slip, again the solitary close fielder, for 30; 59 for three in the 13th over.
Noor-ul-Haq and Waheedullah Shafaq then came in partnership, without looking very convincing for a time.
They grew in confidence, but one or two chances appeared to be missed in the field.
As they did so the sky clouded over more, the light worsened and rain was clearly on its way.
Play continued through bad light and a steady drizzle, but eventually the umpires were forced to suspend play with the score 147 for three in the 35th over.
Ul-Haq was unbeaten with 47 and Shafaq with 45, both having looked better the longer they had gone on.
For a long time it looked as if further play would be unlikely, but unexpectedly they restarted just before 5.15pm, with Afghanistan A’s new target being 162 to win in 40 overs.
Basically, this meant another 15 runs off 5.1 overs, which should have been no problem.
Remarkably, off the first ball bowled, which was actually the last ball of Kaia’s unfinished over, ul-Haq (47) went for a totally unnecessary big hit and skied a catch to mid-on.
Shafiqullah came in and, true to his usual form, hit his second ball, from Nyauchi, for six.
It took only 10 balls for the 15 runs to be made, which all seemed rather farcical.
Shafaq reached his fifty off 83 balls as he hit the winning two runs.
Masakadza finished with the best bowling figures, taking two for 40 off his 10 overs.
The final match will take place on Sunday, weather permitting, and Zimbabwe A face a five-nil whitewash unless they can raise their spirit and their game.
Zimbabwe Cricket match report