Afghanistan – 307-3 in 90 overs (Asghar Afghan 106*, Hashmatullah Shahidi 86*, Ibrahim Zadran 72; Ryan Burl 1/34, Victor Nyauchi 1/73)
Day 1 – Stumps
An unbroken fourth-wicket partnership of 186 between Hashmatullah Shahidi and his captain, Asghar Afghan, took Afghanistan into a strong position at the end of the first day’s play in this second Test match against Zimbabwe in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
By the close Afghanistan had scored 307 for three wickets, with Afghan on 106 and Shahidi 86.
A summary of the day’s play might read: Zimbabwe lost an important toss, Afghanistan batted superbly, Zimbabwe bowled poorly and their fielding was not up to its usual high standard.
Zimbabwe are playing the same eleven that won the first Test, while Afghanistan have made as many as five changes in their team, including their star leg-spin bowler, Rashid Khan, who was declared fit to play.
The pitch has been shaven for this match, which was not good news for the Zimbabwe pace bowlers who had enjoyed the grass at one end in the previous match.
It was expected to be a good batting surface to start with, and so it proved, but there are some cracks in it and it will probably give increasing assistance to the spinners later in the match.
In fact the Zimbabwe spinners were able to spin the ball quite sharply at times during this the first day.
It was therefore a very good toss to win, and Afghanistan won it again, naturally deciding to bat first.
They got off to a shaky start though, as their replacement opening batsman Javed Ahmadi flashed the first delivery he faced, from Victor Nyauchi, over the slips for four, was beaten by the second and then edged the third to third slip, where Sean Williams took a sharp head-high catch; Afghanistan six for one wicket.
Ibrahim Zadran, impressive in the first Test, again played very soundly, as did his new partner, Rahmat Shah.
They played a positive game and the team fifty was reached within the first hour of play.
Blessing Muzarabani did not have a very good opening spell, conceding 23 runs off his five overs.
Immediately after the drinks break, though, Zadran drove a ball through the off side and the batsmen took two easily.
However, Shah hesitated fatally over a third run and a good throw from Tarisai Musakanda found him short of his crease and run out for 23; 56 for two.
Soon afterwards Zadran had a narrow escape at 31, as he drove a ball back to Sikandar Raza, who claimed a low catch, but replays seemed to indicate that the ball touched the ground as he caught it.
Afghanistan were in quite a good position at the lunch interval, with a score of 83 for two wickets; Zadran had 43 and Shahidi 12.
Zadran reached an excellent fifty soon after lunch, off 93 balls, and the team hundred followed.
Zimbabwe captain Sean Williams brought himself on opposite Raza.
Then the skipper replaced Raza with leg-spinner Ryan Burl, who struck in his first over.
At 121 he found some spin, enough to take the edge of Zadran’s bat and be caught by Raza at slip.
Zadran had made a very impressive 72 off 130 balls, with eight fours, and Afghanistan were now 121 for three wickets, with their two most renowned batsmen out.
Afghan now came in and played quite aggressively from the start, though he had a few lucky strokes, evading the fielders, and the Zimbabwe bowlers did not bowl well to him.
When he reached 35 he caught his partner, Shahidi, who was content to play a steady, supporting role.
When tea was taken, Afghanistan had reached 187 for three wickets, with Shahidi on 42 and Afghan 38, and they now held an advantage over Zimbabwe.
After the interval the batsmen quickly settled down again and Afghan reached his fifty off 64 balls, and was soon followed by Shahidi off 154 balls — a real contrast, but without the solidity of Shahidi, Afghan’s innings may not have been possible.
Runs continued to flow, especially as the Zimbabwean bowlers gave the batsmen far too many bad balls to hit, which they did joyfully.
Afghan hit Burl for two sixes and a four off successive balls.
The Afghanistan skipper, within sight of his century, took risks as the pacemen came back with the second new ball, and hit Nyauchi for 16 runs in an over to reach the landmark off 121 balls.
Nyauchi and Muzarabani produced some good deliveries at the end of the day, but by now the pair were so confident and well set that they were scarcely troubled.
The batsmen did calm down in the last few overs to make sure they will be there again tomorrow morning.