Nemesis Zim, Afghan square-off in Byo

BULAWAYO - ODDS are stacked highly against Zimbabwe but momentum and conditions largely favour the hosts when nemesis Zimbabwe and Afghanistan clash in a World Cup Qualifier at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo this morning.

Back in 2014 Zimbabwe and Afghanistan played a 2-2 draw in the One Day International series in Zimbabwe and in the 2015/16 series, the locals lost 3-2 to the same opponents who then went on to win by the similar margin in United Arab Emirates the same season.

Afghanistan maintained their dominance with another 3-2 win in Zimbabwe the following season before completing a convincing 4-1 rout of the locals in the two teams’ last round of preparations for the World Cup Qualifiers in UAE last month.

But the current WC Qualifiers form guide after playing a match each, Zimbabwe rides high above the Asian side after Heath Streak’s men won by a convincing 116 runs against Nepal in their opening Group B match at Queens Sports Club on Sunday while Scotland engineered a seven-wicket victory over Afghanistan at Bulawayo Athletic Club on the same day.

Sikandar Raza starred for Zimbabwe with an all-round performance that saw him hit a blistering 123 runs from 66 balls before going on to claim three wickets for 48 runs in 10 overs with his off-spin.

Wicketkeeper batsman Brendan Taylor also warmed up to the big clash with a 91-ball 100 while openers Cephas Zhuwao (41) and Solomon Mire (52) laid a perfect foundation for Zimbabwe’s 380/6. Nepal tried to work their way towards the insurmountable chase but finally ran out of balls on 264/8 in their 50 overs.

Zimbabwe coach Streak was impressed with the way the players conducted themselves against Nepal and hopes they can build on that victory and Afghanistan’ loss against Scotland to go two games to the good and march towards the super six stage.

“Obviously, it was a good start to the tournament getting a convincing win like that. The guys played good solid cricket. It was nice to see that positive brand of cricket. We have seen them do that before and hopefully they can continue with that fine display,” Streak told the Daily News yesterday.

“It will be the opposite (less pressure against Afghanistan); in fact (the fact that Afghanistan lost) I think it gives us an opportunity if we can go 2 up in the qualifiers it will be good because it takes some pressure off the team.”

Captain Graeme Cremer who was unbeaten on four runs from five balls and claimed a single wicket in his 10-over spell in the win against Nepal also backed his charges to do well after getting that convincing first match win.

“... Very happy to see Cephas (Zhuwao) and Sols (Mire) dominate upfront, and real masterclass by Taylor and Sikandar, they played their roles to perfection... not to leave out Craig (Ervine) who scored 34 runs) and Hamilton Masakadza (17) who were also good,” Cremer told the Daily News.

“Very surprising (Afghanistan loss to Scotland), but all the teams will be very competitive this tournament... it’s gonna be tough and it’s good that the tournament is wide open for anyone who plays well..

“Not at all (pressure getting into today’s match), if anything it gives us more confidence going into that game... and our batters had a good day out which we will carry into the next game.”

Afghanistan did not play badly against Scotland, they had two half centuries courtesy of Mohammad Nabi who was run-out for 92 and Najibullah Zadran who scored 67 runs helping the team to 255 runs all out with two balls remaining in their innings. But some magnificent batting from man-of-the-match Calum MacLeod who finished unbeaten on 157 runs from 146 balls including 23 boundaries and a maximum as well as Richie Berrington’s 67 up the order took the match beyond Afghanistan’s reach. Scotland reached 256/3 in 47,2 overs.

Another mouth-watering encounter is scheduled for Old Hararians Sports Club in the capital where fading giants West Indies take on UAE.

“The two sides played in a low-scorer warm-up encounter at Harare Sports Club that saw the Caribbean Islanders showing little to claim their stake in the sun as one of the favourite sides to claim the two remaining World Cup slots for England 2019.

Ireland entertain Papua New Guinea at Harare Sports Club while Scotland host Hong Kong at Bulawayo Athletic Club.

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