HARARE - A low key welcome is awaiting the Zimbabwe cricket team when they arrive from India after a disappointing ICC WT20 qualifying campaign that saw them lose to Associate side Afghanistan.
However, they will not return empty-handed as their consistent ability to choke has found them new fans in Asia and has endeared them to the people of Afghanistan.
Since their recent entry on the ODI circuit the Afghans have fought to make a mark in world cricket and prove that they are good enough to play at the highest level.
And Zimbabwe may have provided that ladder for Afghanistan’s rise from underdog to big dog status.
“We love Zimbabwe, because they gave us a chance,” Afghanistan Sports Writers Association president Sayed Zaled told the Daily News yesterday.
His sentiments came after he watched his country reach the Super10s stage of the WT20 for the first time with an emphatic 59-run win over Zimbabwe.
It was another monumental occasion for the politically volatile country that failed to qualify for the 2011 World Cup, and only earned ODI status in 2013.
In equal measure, it was another disastrous campaign for Dave Whatmore’s charges who failed to rise to expected heights despite ZC employing the services of batting consultant Marvan Atapattu specifically for the tournament.
Zimbabwe’s devastating exit was felt as far as England with former coach Alan Butcher taking to Twitter to vent out his disappointment.
“There are only 2 things wrong with Zim Cricket. 1) They are not run well enough to keep best players. 2) They do not have enough good players,” he said.
He had also followed keenly as Zimbabwe produced sloppy performances throughout the tournament as they scrambled to wins over Associate nations Hong Kong and Scotland.
It was no surprise that Zimbabwe and Afghanistan faced off in a shootout for a place in the main draw, after two wins each with the Full Member, not the favourite.
Put in to bat Mohammad Shahzad (40) gave Afghanistan a flying start before Mohammad Nabi (52) and Samiullah Shenwari (43) added 98 runs off 64 balls to power them to 186 for 6, the country’s highest total in this format.
The Associate nation then returned to bowl out Zimbabwe for 127 to register a memorable victory over a full-member nation and join England, South Africa, West Indies and Sri Lanka in Group One of the Super 10s stage of the tournament.
“This was a very important match for us. People in Afghanistan are crazy about cricket. They love the game, so (winning it) was very important for us,” victorious captain Asghar Stanikzai said.
It was another reality check for the Hamilton Masakadza-captained side which has never beaten Afghanistan in T20 internationals in four attempts.
On the ICC T20 championship rankings Afghanistan are ranked ninth, two places above Zimbabwe.
In the ODI the Asians are in 10th place with Zimbabwe reeling at the bottom in 12th place.
It seems for now, Zimbabwe are no longer eating from the table of champions.
If anything they are now waiting to pick the crumbs of Associate nations.