Mehluli Sibanda in Harare
FOLLOWING their sensational three-run win over Afghanistan in the third One-Day International at Harare Sports Club on Tuesday, Zimbabwe can draw inspiration from that performance to win the five-match series.
The home side seemed to have conceded the series when they stumbled to 129 in 32.4 overs, but an unbelievable fight back, aided by some panic batting by the Afghans, the tourists lost their last five wickets for five runs.
Seamers Tendai Chatara, Christopher Mpofu and left-arm spinner Sean Williams picked up three wickets apiece to lead their side’s outrageous comeback.
Mpofu and Williams’ wickets triggered the carnage as Afghanistan buckled under pressure from the Zimbabwe bowlers.
Scenes of celebration engulfed Harare Sports Club with the few fans that witnessed history being made.
Not only did Zimbabwe record what had seemed an impossible victory when the visitors were at 121 for five, but they also managed to defend their lowest ever score to win an ODI. Before Tuesday’s magic, the lowest Zimbabwe had ever defended was 134 to beat England by nine runs in the 1992 World Cup at Albury.
Bowling coach, Makhaya Ntini, sprinted onto the field after Williams had Amir Hamza caught at short third man by Richard Ngarava.
The bowling was top notch, with the bowlers being prepared by Ntini and head coach Heath Streak, both legends of the game with the ball.
Streak’s headache remains the shambolic batting, which characterised the second and third ODIs.
Last Sunday, Zimbabwe imploded in pursuit of 239, with only opener Solomon Mire scoring a respectable 54.
On Tuesday, Tarisai Musakanda, who made his debut in November last year, was the torch bearer with 64, batting at number three, while Malcolm Waller chipped in with an unbeaten 36. The two put on 81 for the sixth-wicket stand as Zimbabwe struggled to build meaningful partnerships.
Yesterday, Streak gave the players time off to unwind before they resume training today. For the Zimbabwe batsmen, the problem does not appear to be a matter of ability, but more to do with mental strength and approach to the game.
On Tuesday, they struggled from the start with Fareed Ahmad and Hamza, who took the new ball for Afghanistan.
Instead of waiting for the bad balls to come their way, the batsmen charged at everything which resulted in their demise.
Batting consultant Lance Klusener had no kind words for senior players who continue to underperform, and made it clear that if they do not improve, youngsters will take over their places in the team.
That statement seemed to be targeted at players such as Hamilton Masakadza, who was brought into the team after passing a fitness test, but only managed five runs in the second ODI and was dropped on Tuesday.
From what has transpired in the series so far, indications are that any score above 200 runs can be defended at Harare Sports Club, so while the bowlers applied the pressure, the Zimbabwe batsmen could have tried to at least get something close to 200.
As they prepare to launch a serious fight back to win the series, Zimbabwe know too well that their batting has to improve to give the bowlers a good score to defend.
For Afghanistan, just one win in the remaining two matches will hand them the series, while Zimbabwe must win both matches to overhaul the 2-1 score.