Zim begin final leg of preps

SHARJAH — All roads lead to the famous Sharjah Cricket Stadium where ICC Intercontinental Cup champions Afghanistan and three-time former ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier (previously known as the ICC Trophy) winners Zimbabwe will square-off against each other in a five-match one-day international (ODI) series from today.

The series between 10th-ranked Zimbabwe and 11th-ranked Afghanistan, who are separated by just two ranking points, is crucial as both sides are in Group B of the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018 (to be played from March 4 to 25) and are scheduled to meet in the tournament proper at the Queen’s Sports Club in Bulawayo on 6 March.

This means Afghanistan and Zimbabwe will not only aim to give final touches to their preparations in the Sharjah series, but will also aim to carry the winning momentum into the qualifiers, whose finalists will join defending champions Australia, Bangladesh, hosts England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka in the 10-team ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England and Wales from May 30 to July 15.

The series in Sharjah will also see the return of Zimbabwe’s fast bowler Brian Vitori, as well as Afghanistan’s duo of Rashid Khan and Mohammad Shahzad.

Vitori was allowed to resume bowling in international cricket on January 20 after remedial work and an independent assessment found his bowling action to be legal, while Shahzad was allowed to return to international cricket on January 17 after serving a 12-month suspension for an anti-doping rule violation.

Rashid Khan has been playing the shortest format of the game in Australia and also appeared in two T20Is earlier this week, but his last ODI for Afghanistan was in December 2017 against Ireland at the same venue.

Rival captains Asghar Stanikzai of Afghanistan and Graeme Cremer of Zimbabwe concurred that the Sharjah matches formed part of an overall strategic objective of qualifying for the World Cup.

Cremer welcomed Vitori in the squad and also mentioned Brendan Taylor and Kyle Jarvis, who resumed their Zimbabwe careers in October after having given up international cricket to pursue careers in English county cricket.

“I’m very pleased as a captain to have someone with Brian’s ability in my side. He is a true competitor. He brings great strength and versatility to our seam bowling attack,” Cremer said.

“As far as the series against Afghanistan goes, we will take it one game at a time and we would want to win every game if possible. We have not won a series against Afghanistan and we are looking to rectify that, and carry the momentum into the qualifiers.”

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