CHATTOGRAM – Hamilton Masakadza signed off an acclaimed international career in style here, leading Zimbabwe’s 156 chase with 71, to snap Afghanistan’s world-record winning streak in T20Is at 12.
His 42-ball knock also helped secure his country’s first-ever victory over these opponents in the shortest format.
Zimbabwe weathered a bruising opening stand between Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Hazratullah Zazai, Chris Mpofu snaffling a T20I career-best 4 for 30 as Afghanistan were restricted to 155 for 8.
Masakadza then led Zimbabwe’s charge with the bat one last time, swatting five characteristically muscular sixes in his match-winning innings that set up a seven-wicket win.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz fiddled his way through five dot balls in the first over of the innings, from left-arm spinner Ainsley Ndlovu, but he and Hazratullah Zazai quickly made up for the sluggish start thereafter.
By the time the Powerplay was up, Zazai had gone some way towards making amends for his mediocre returns in this tri-series, Gurbaz had spanked three sixes, and Afghanistan had raced to 55 at a canter.
A withering blow to the midsection via a Kyle Jarvis indipper took the wind out of Zazai but, after a few deep breaths, the batsman barely slowed the momentum as he shook the stinger off with a six off Sean Williams’ left-arm spin.
Gurbaz motored into the 40s with 10 runs off two Ryan Burl long hops, and was then gifted a second life when Regis Chakabva spilled a high – but regulation – chance in the outfield.
Zazai was eventually out for 31 as the opening stand was snapped at 83, but Gurbaz and Shafiqullah continued to make merry.
Shafiqullah biffed a Tino Mutombodzi legbreak over long off to bring up the hundred, while Gurbaz notched up a maiden T20I fifty from 40 balls, in the 13th over.
Afghanistan appeared primed to launch a blistering attack in the second half of the innings.
Zimbabwe, however, had other ideas and their fightback was spearheaded by veteran seamer Chris Mpofu.
He was Zimbabwe’s quickest bowler of the evening, topping out at around 136kmph, but he also varied his pace cleverly and was rewarded with a career-best T20I haul of 4 for 30.
Mpofu’s efforts raised the energy of those around him, and from 107 for 1, Afghanistan quickly lost their way, losing 7 for 48.
Mpofu got things going by removing a slog-sweeping Shafiqullah with a slow offcutter, and then accounted for Mohammad Nabi in the next over.
With Gurbaz bowled behind his legs sweeping at Williams and Najibullah Zadran slicing a Mutombodzi googly to short third man in quick succession, the stuffing was knocked out of Afghanistan’s middle order and their charge quickly lost momentum.
Gulbadin Naib and Rashid Khan both cleared the boundary in their short cameos, but Mpofu struck twice in the final over of the innings to dismiss debutant Fazal Niazai and former captain Asghar Afghan to keep Afghanistan’s total in check.
More than eighteen years after he walked out onto the field for the first time as an international cricketer, Hamilton Masakadza strode out one last time as Zimbabwe began their chase. In a touching tribute, both teams lined up to give Masakadza a guard of honour on his final walk to the middle, and he signed off in style.
It was Brendan Taylor who was first out of the blocks, sweeping and lofting Mujeeb Ur Rahman’s first two balls to the boundary, but it was Masakadza, wearing a special edition T-shirt with his nickname ‘Mudhara’ (Shona for ‘old man’) printed on the back, who stole the show.
Playing with a freedom that had been lacking from his game amid tumultuous times in Zimbabwean cricket of late, Masakadza showed his team just what they would be missing.
His first boundary was perhaps his best, and certainly the cleanest strike on either side all evening.
It was also a trademark Masakadza stroke, the burly Zimbabwean captain getting down on one knee to swat a full-pace delivery from Dawlat Zadran up and over deep backward square.
Chakabva, shovelling virtually everything into the leg side no matter the line, proved the perfect foil, repeatedly handing the strike back over to his captain.
At the other end, an unshackled Masakadza planted Nabi twice into the stands, racing past fifty from just the 27th ball he faced.
Rashid was drilled down the ground and then over deep midwicket. Masakadza entered the 70s with a farewell hundred very much a possibility, but it was not to be.
Aiming once more for the stands, he was caught in the deep off Dawlat Zadran. But the job was as good as done.
Changing through the gears, Chakabva took the requirement to under a run a ball, and Williams saw Zimbabwe home.
Masakadza was able to leave the international game with a smile on his face, and a historic Zimbabwe win under his belt.
Zimbabwe 156 for 3 (Masakadza 71, Chakabva 39, Mujeeb 2 -28) beat Afghanistan 155 for 8 (Gurbaz 61, Hazratullah 31, Mpofu 4-30) by seven wickets – Cricinfo