Zimbabwe edge ahead in Abu Dhabi Test against Afghanistan

Blessing Muzarabani took four wickets as Zimbabwe bowled Afghanistan out for 131 on the opening day of the Test match at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Courtesy Abu Dhabi Cricket

After two of the most venerable cricket nations played a Test match in fast-forward last week, two of its newer arrivals followed suit on an eventful opening day in Abu Dhabi.

Fifteen wickets fell as Test cricket returned to the capital for the first time since December 2018.

By the end of day one in the Abu Dhabi Sunshine series at the Zayed Cricket Stadium, Zimbabwe just about held the ascendancy over Afghanistan. At stumps, they led by two runs with five first innings wickets still standing.

Blessing Muzarabani, the towering fast bowler, took four wickets as the Zimbabweans fired out the host side for 131 within a session and a half.

The Zimbabwe top order hardly fared better in reply, as they slipped to 38-4, but captain Sean Williams posted an important half-century to wrest the initiative for his side.

The two-match series was relocated from Oman, where it had initially been scheduled, because of Covid reasons.

It provides a rare opportunity to play the long format for the two sides. Zimbabwe have played just three Tests since 2018, while it is just Afghanistan’s fifth match since they started out in Test cricket in the same year.

The Afghans have gone into it with a number of their stars absent. Rashid Khan, the leg-spinner, was unavailable because of the finger injury he sustained while playing for Lahore Qalandars in the PSL.

None of the stars of franchise cricket like Mohammed Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, or Mohammed Shahzad is involved.

Neither is Rahmanullah Gurbaz, the 19-year-old whizkid who scored a century on his one-day international debut against Ireland in January, and who has been playing Bukhatir League cricket in Sharjah for much of the time since.

Many of those will likely play a role when the two sides meet in a series of three Twenty20 internationals starting on March 17.

In their absence, the Afghan batting proved brittle against Muzarabani and Victor Nyauchi, the Zimbabwe new-ball bowlers who took seven wickets between them.

Afghanistan have a side loaded with spin bowlers, and they, too, found early success. Hamza Hotak, the left-arm spinner, was on a hat-trick when Zimbabwe were precariously placed on 38-4.

It was at that point that Williams and Sikandar Raza struck back, though. Zimbabwe’s most experienced batsmen put on 71 for the fifth wicket.

Raza chipped a catch to extra cover, to give Hotak his fourth wicket, but Williams was not out on 54 as Zimbabwe had edged into the lead by the close.