Afghanistan 545 for 4 dec (Shahidi 200*, Afghan 164, Zadran 72) and 108 for 4 (Rahmat 58, Burl 2-16, Muzarabani 2-25) beat Zimbabwe 287 (Raza 85, Masvaure 65, Rashid 4-138, Hamza 3-73) and 365 (Williams 151*, Tiripano 95, Rashid 7-137) by six wickets
Bowlers win Test matches, and on a slow, placid track at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, it took a monumental effort from Rashid Khan for Afghanistan to pull off their third victory in only their sixth Test match.
Carrying what was effectively a three-man attack of otherwise modest penetration, Rashid bowled 99.2 overs across back-to-back Zimbabwe innings and picked up 11 wickets. The other bowlers from both sides picked up a combined 16 wickets from 327.1 overs.
Rashid is a global T20 superstar, but this performance – taking place in the outer reaches of Test cricket, outside the World Test Championship – showed off all the facets of his bowling that aren’t on view in the restricted canvas of limited-overs cricket. Most impressive was the tireless effort he put in, over after over, without losing the verve and zip to keep challenging both edges of the bat on a pitch with neither the pace nor the bounce to encourage wristspinners.
Oh, and he did all this with the middle finger of his bowling hand not yet fully healed from the fracture that had kept him out of the first Test.
Rashid’s efforts left Afghanistan needing 108 to win in the last 45 overs of the match. They got there for the loss of four wickets in 26.1 overs, with Rahmat Shah leading the way with a confident half-century. The target was too small to truly challenge Afghanistan on this pitch, and Zimbabwe’s bowlers didn’t attack the stumps often enough to test their batsmen. Rahmat breezed along to 58 off 76 balls before playing across the line of a Ryan Burl legbreak that kept low and bowled him. By then, Afghanistan were nearly home, needing just seven more to win.
Zimbabwe may have eventually stumbled to the defeat that seemed a foregone conclusion when they followed on 258 behind, but for 70.4 overs, Sean Williams and Donald Tiripano had made them dream. Exactly 20 years after VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid had batted through an entire day’s play to turn a follow-on situation on its head, Williams and Tiripano were threatening to do something similar. They had batted through the entire post-tea session on day four, and they were within four minutes of batting through the entire first session of day five.
They had put on 187 for the eighth wicket, and moved Zimbabwe from minus 116 for 7, effectively, to 71 for 7.
Then Tiripano, five runs away from a maiden Test hundred, ran into the Rashid wrong’un. He’d seemed to pick Rashid out of the hand right through his innings, and had dealt with his threat magnificently even when he was getting the ball to scoot through low. The slowness of the pitch had helped Tiripano negotiate Rashid for 108 balls, but no one is ever entirely safe against him, not even when he’s starting his 93rd over of the match.
For once, Tiripano didn’t pick Rashid out of his hand, and the pace of his delivery negated the slowness of the pitch, zipping through to strike him on the back pad and punish him for playing back to a good-length ball.
The Zimbabwe innings ended with a similar wrong’un to dismiss Victor Nyauchi with Williams left stranded on 151. Before that, though, Williams and Blessing Muzarabani had added another 33 to their total for the ninth wicket, extending Afghanistan’s frustrations. Muzarabani played an entertaining hand of 17, scoring 16 runs courtesy four leg-side slogs in one Amir Hamza over, and scoring just one run from the other 39 balls he faced.
He was also dropped on the leg-side boundary by Ahmadi while attempting another hoick off Hamza, before being given out by umpire Ahmed Shah Pakteen two balls later when Hamza had turned one past his defensive push. Muzarabani’s bat had hit the ground when he played the ball, possibly leading Pakteen to think he had edged it.
The day began with Williams sending a leading edge ballooning over the bowler Sayed Shirzad’s head and into no-man’s land. His progress thereafter was serene, though, as he added 45 to his overnight score with little alarm, picking Rashid’s variations out of his hand and negotiating Shirzad’s short ball without trouble.
Shirzad’s short ball, though, was causing Tiripano all kinds of problems, with the batsman struggling to gauge the height it would attain on this up-and-down fifth-day pitch. He was struck on the helmet while taking his eye off one of these short balls, gloved another in the air – but safely short of gully – and was smacked on the back while ducking into one that kept low enough to prompt an lbw appeal.
Then, on 67, he offered Afghanistan a half-chance, when he drove away from his body at a Rashid legbreak and edged low towards Rahmat Shah at first slip. The fielder didn’t look too confident that he’d taken the catch cleanly, and replays confirmed the ball had touched the grass just as he pouched it.
Thereafter, Williams and Tiripano went back to looking rock-solid, and Zimbabwe’s lead began to grow more quickly. Williams pulled a tired short ball from Shirzad wide of mid-on in the final over of his spell, Tiripano smacked a rare half-volley from Rashid straight back over his head for four, and then Williams punched Amir Hamza through the covers for another boundary – all this in the space of three overs.
Tiripano had used the reverse-sweep with great success against Hamza on day four, and he whipped it out again to pick up two more fours in the left-arm spinner’s next two overs, before conventionally sweeping Rashid for another four to move to 86. Asghar Afghan whipped Hamza out of the attack and tried his luck with the part-time legbreaks of Rahmat and the left-arm spin of Shahidullah. Neither made much of an impression.
Then Rashid, out of the attack for a mere four overs, returned with 15 minutes to go for lunch. Afghanistan had no choice but to keep bringing him back. He had bowled and bowled and bowled some more, and he came back and once again asked Zimbabwe, “let’s see what you do with my next ball.”
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo