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After locking horns in a hard-fought Test series that ended with even honors, all eyes will now turn to the shortest format of the game as Afghanistan and Zimbabwe meet at Abu Dhabi to play three T20Is. Not set to be part of the T20I World Cup to be played later this year, Zimbabwe will have a point to prove. Afghanistan, however, will have a different goal in mind, that is, to test their lineup ahead of the Asia Cup and T20I World Cup. The first match of the series is to be played at Sheikh Zayed International Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi, on 17th March 2021.
Ranked 9th in ICC T20I rankings, Afghanistan will not be having its full-strength side, to begin with, in this series. Afghanistan gain strength from their T20I specialists in Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi, and Gulbadin Naib, but two of those players will not be available due to visa issues. In total, Afghanistan have five players you will not be available to play but were part of the initially announced T20I squad.
The hosts will derive confidence from spectacular performance over Zimbabwe in head-to-head contests. In the nine meetings between them, Afghanistan have lost just once. Apart from that, the way they registered the win in the final Test should also boost their confidence.
Despite missing five first-choice players, Afghanistan do not appear to be an off-balance side. Rashid Khan has proven to be a match-winner for the Afghans and his performance will hold the key once again. We saw Zimbabwe's batsmen struggle against quality spin in the two Tests and Afghanistan have the spin options in plenty. They have a nice amalgamation of youth and experience available in the batting lineup. If they manage to play to their potential, Afghanistan shouldn't find it difficult to keep their head-to-head edge intact.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Karim Janat, Usman Ghani, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan, N Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Amir Hamza, Naveen-ul-Haq, Fareed Ahmad Malik.
Zimbabwe are likely to go into the first T20I match with pretty much the same side they fielded in the two Test matches. They were fantastic in the first match but failed to repeat anything similar in the second match of the series. As per ICC Rankings for T20Is, Zimbabwe are 12th and with Afghanistan's key T20I players absent, this will be a huge opportunity for them to make a mark in this format.
On paper, Zimbabwe have a decent T20 unit, and the presence of several all-rounders adds to their balance. Understandably, the likes of Sean Williams, Sikandar Raza, and Ryan Burl will be their most important players. They all have done well in recent times and if they get going, Afghanistan's spinners might have a tough time.
While facing spin could be an issue for the visitors, there will be a lot of assistance available for their bowlers as well. Blessing Muzarabani has been their most reliable bowler in recent time, picking up more than one wicket on six out of nine recent matches. All in all, Zimbabwe have only a few players, who they'd be relying heavily upon. They'd need at least one, if not all, to come good and if that happens, Zimbabwe will certainly be in business.
Tarisai Musakanda, Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Sean Williams, Wesley Madhevere, Sikandar Raza, Richmond Mutumbami, Ryan Burl, Donald Tiripano, Brandon Mavuta, Blessing Muzarabani, Richard Ngarava.
Having lost the previous match of this tour after a sensational start, Zimbabwe will be hungry to get a win under their belt. While the Afghans were perceived to be a better-balanced team between the two, the absence of five of their first-choice players has put things nicely back in balance. Zimbabwe would need to keep Rashid Khan at bay and they'll be pretty much in business if they manage to do so. Comparing the two teams on recent form and paper, placing your money on an Afghanistan win should be the way to go.
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