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Stumps Afghanistan 307 for 3 (Afghan 106*, Hashmatulllah 86*, Burl 1-34) vs Zimbabwe
(CRICINFO) Afghanistan’s captain Asghar Afghan became his country’s second Test centurion after Rahmat Shah and played an entertaining innings to cap a commanding opening day for his team in the second Test against Zimbabwe. Afghan shared a record 186-run fourth-wicket partnership with Hashmatullah Shahidi, who is 14 away from recording Afghanistan third hundred, and built on the foundation laid by young opener Ibrahim Zadran.
The 19-year old scored his third Test fifty and dominated a 50-run second-wicket partnership with Shah, which put Afghanistan on track to go big on a dry, flat track in Abu Dhabi.
Although the venue is the same as the one used for the first Test, the pitch is entirely different. While last week’s strip was green tinged with extra bounce on offer, this week’s is placid though there is suggestion it could take turn later on, perhaps in time for Afghanistan’s legspinner Rashid Khan, who recovered from a finger injury to make the XI, to come into play.
For Zimbabwe, the going was tough and they made use of all seven bowlers at their disposal, with little success. Apart from a hint of swing in the morning, there was no assistance for the seamers and with the cracks only expected to come into play later in the match, the spinners did not have much to work with either.
Blessing Muzarabani adjusted to a fuller length relatively well and Victor Nyauchi found movement with the new ball. Nyauchi enjoyed early success when he found Javed Ahmadi’s outside edge as the opener searched outside offstump and nicked off to Sean Williams at third slip.
Zadran’s technique was tighter than his opening partner’s and he was discerning in his shot selection. He drove an overpitched delivery from Muzarabani down the ground, chipped a half-volley on the pads over midwicket and found the gap between third man and gully. In attempting a different length, Nyauchi tried the short ball to Zadran and he was sent to the midwicket fence.
Shah provided Zadran good support and forced Williams to introduce the change bowlers earlier than he may have liked. After using Muzarabani for an eight-over spell upfront in the first Test, Williams only gave him a five overs here and Donald Tiripano was brought on in the 11th over.
Zadran and Shah navigated him comfortably, and their partnership grew to fifty, with runs coming fairly easily until they pushed for one too many. Zadran hit Tiripano into the gap at deep extra-cover and completed a comfortable two, before deciding to try a third. Shah was slow to respond, Tarisai Musakanda sent in a strong throw just over the stumps at the striker’s end for Regis Chakabva to do the rest.
Spin was introduced in the over after that dismissal and almost had an early impact. Sikandar Raza appealed for a catch off his own bowling when Zadran, on 31, played the ball straight back to him but replays showed the ball touched the ground as Raza’s fingers curled around it.
Zadran was slightly more conservative in his approach after the scare and reached his fifty after the lunch interval with a flick to backward square. Then, he grew more aggressive against spinners, stepping out against both Raza and Williams, to hit them down the ground for four. He did not have the same intent against Ryan Burl and pushed forward to defend one that turned enough to take the outside edge to end his innings on 72.
That brought Afghan to the crease and after allowing himself some time to settle, he showed his intent. He dragged Williams over mid-on, dispatched Tiripano’s short balls, slogged Burl through midwicket and swept him to fine leg to race to 34 off 36 balls before slowing down in the lead-up to tea. Then, in the final session, with Hashmatullah as the perfect foil, Afghan decided to have some fun.
Nyauchi’s second spell was saved for later in the day and treated with disdain by Afghan, who showed off his back-foot play with two strong whips. Afghan outscored Hashmatullah and brought up fifty with a single before Hashmatullah did the same, gently pushing the ball into the covers.
Hashmatullah took advantage of short balls from the Zimbabwe’s spinners, who grew weary trying to make things happen but it was Afghan who stood out with his aggression. He took 16 runs off the first three balls of Burl’s eighth over, sending him over midwicket for six, to the same area for four and then through the covers for good measure. The second new ball did nothing to rein him in and Afghan reached his century in an Nyauchi over that he plundered 16 runs off. First, he swung to cow corner and got six to enter the 90s, then he cleared mid-off for two, then found four through the midwicket area and reached the milestone with a clean stroke to long-on. Afghan scored 84 of his 106 runs on the leg side and finished the day as.