THE Zimbabwe national cricket team will be banking on a push from an expected strong home crowd when they confront nemeses Afghanistan in the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup qualifier at Queens Sports Club here this morning.
BY KEVIN MAPASURE IN BULAWAYO
The home side, following their win over Nepal in their opening Group B match and coupled with Scotland’s surprise win over Afghanistan, know that they can strangle the life out of the Asians’ campaign with a win today.
Afghanistan, who beat Zimbabwe 4-1 in a recent one-day international series that was played in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, are well aware that a defeat today will leave their chances of qualifying to the World Cup hanging by the thread even though they will still have a chance of qualifying to the Super Sixes stage.
The top three teams from each of the two groups qualify for the Super Six stage, but since the teams carry points from group qualifiers, a perfect record in the first stage is more important.
Zimbabwe can consolidate their position at the top of Group B with a win, but they will be the first to admit that today’s contest is likely to be a bruising one. They will need to summon all their energies as well as get the aid from a boisterous crowd like the one that turned up in their match against Nepal on Sunday.
Batsman Sikandar Raza said that this match against Afghanistan will be a lot different from the five that they played in Sharjah as Zimbabwe have the advantage of the knowledge of home conditions as well as a strong home crowd who can unsettle the opposition.
“The game against Afghanistan is a special game. We need to be at the finals and for us to achieve that we need to pick up wins,” Raza said. “We want to give a smile on the 15 million people that are backing us. This match is different from the ones in the series because now we have a strong crowd behind us who will spur us on. This time our focus is clear, we have a different attitude going into this match and we have derived more confidence from the performance against Nepal.”
Zimbabwe will be looking to learn from Scotland who reduced Afghanistan’s spin wizard Rashid Khan to an ordinary bowler, hitting him all over the field, negating his threat.
Scotland’s game plan worked well for them and Zimbabwe will be having something up their sleeve when they take him on.
Having scored 380 against Nepal on the same ground on Sunday, Zimbabwe will be looking to ride on the momentum with their batsmen who include openers Cephas Zhuwao and Solomon Mire as well as Raza and Brendan Taylor brimming with confidence after a good performance against Nepal.
Zhuwao and Mire batted Zimbabwe to 77 runs in 7.1 overs for the first wicket while Taylor and Raza made 100 and 123 respectively.
ICC World Cup qualifiers fixtures today
Group A: Papua New Guinea v Ireland (Harare Sports Club), Windies v United Arab Emirates (Old Hararians)
Group B: Zimbabwe v Afghanistan (Queens Sports Club), Scotland v Hong Kong (Bulawayo Athletic Club)