Zimbabwe – 129 all out in 32.4 overs (Tarisai Musakanda 60, Malcolm Waller 36*; Gulbadin Naib 4/27, Rashid Khan 3/29, Fareed Ahmad 2/19)
Afghanistan – 126 all out in 29.3 overs (Asghar Stanikzai 31, Samiullah Shenwari 29; Sean Williams 3/15, Chris Mpofu 3/24, Tendai Chatara 3/30)
Zimbabwe won by three runs
Zimbabwe clinched one of their most astonishing victories at Harare Sports Club today when they beat Afghanistan by the narrow margin of three runs.
After their innings of 129, thanks to Tarisai Musakanda and Malcolm Waller and no other player, nobody, including themselves, could have given the home side any serious hope of winning.
But they bowled and fielded very well, and were greatly helped by the overconfident approach of Afghanistan, who in the end could only blame themselves for their shock defeat.
Zimbabwe made one change to their team, replacing Hamilton Masakadza with Sean Williams, who has now passed his fitness test.
The weather was largely overcast, with a possibility of rain later in the day, and the pitch had a moderate amount of grass on it — not that it often makes much difference at Harare Sports Club.
Zimbabwe won the toss for the first time in the series and, after losing two run-chases, decided to bat first.
The bowlers did find some swing at the start, if little off the seam, and PJ Moor and Solomon Mire, though obviously keen to get the score moving, found it difficult to do that and had to rely mainly on quick singles.
They had only nine on the board in the fourth over when Mire (4) drove at a ball from Fareed Ahmad and edged it to first slip.
Moor and Musakanda took the score to 26, most of it a struggle, before Moor (11) fatally miscued a pull to midwicket; 26 for two in the 10th over.
Craig Ervine drove at the very next ball, but only played it on to his stumps via the inside edge.
Williams made five before he slashed a short ball straight to gully, to make the score 34 for four in the 14th over.
The slide continued, as Burl cut a ball from Naib high over the slips, but straight into the hands of third man; 40 for five in the 16th over.
The three left-handers that gave such a strong appearance to Zimbabwe’s middle order had made just nine runs between them, and to all appearances Zimbabwe faced total disaster.
Musakanda, however, was still there and fighting hard, bringing up the fifty in the 18th over with two boundaries off Naib.
Malcolm Waller also began to take the attack to the bowlers, mostly with the sweep against the spinners, and suddenly the batting looked confident and capable.
This positive policy worked so well that the partnership reached 50 in just over eight overs, and the hundred came up in the 26th over.
In the following over Musakanda reached a greatly acclaimed fifty off 64 balls, his first in an ODI.
They put on 81 together before Musakanda miscued a pull from Ahmad and was caught easily at midwicket for 60 off 70 balls, with six fours and a six; Zimbabwe were now 121 for six in the 30th over.
Graeme Cremer uncharacteristically threw his wicket away without scoring, charging down the pitch to Rashid Khan and missing the ball, to be easily stumped.
Tendai Chatara fell first ball, edging a ball into the slips, and the score had plunged to 122 for eight.
Richard Ngarava, who at least had the excuse of inexperience, drove a catch to long-on without scoring, and the last man Chris Mpofu scored a single before scooping a catch to fine leg, to give a total of 129 in less than 33 overs.
This left the admirable Waller stranded on 36 not out (45 balls), having been totally failed by the batting of the last four Zimbabwe batsmen, who all surrendered their wickets for just one run off only 12 balls.
Nine of the Zimbabwe team surrendered their wickets for only 24 runs between them.
Naib finished with four wickets for 27, while Khan took three wickets and Ahmad two. Apart from Musakanda and Waller, they never had it easier.
They were out more than an hour before lunch was due, so there was time for Afghanistan to start their innings.
They were none too careful from the start, as Mohammad Shahzad lashed out at his second ball, from Chatara, and skyed the ball towards long-on, and Waller, running back at full speed, was just unable to reach the catch.
It was a foretaste of things to come, a complacency that was to cost the tourists the match.
Noor Ali Zadran shared the mood of carelessness, popping his first ball from Ngarava towards mid-on, for Cremer to run across and complete the catch; six for one.
Shahzad continued to bat rather recklessly, and when he had made 20 he holed out on the midwicket boundary off the bowling of Chatara; 27 for two after five overs.
Off the next ball Rahmat Shah sliced a ball to the boundary at backward point, but it was very nearly a chance to Waller, who again could not quite reach it in time – on neither occasion was he to blame.
Ngarava, the bowler, again bowled far too many short balls, many of which were punished by the batsmen; his final figures were to be one for 37 off only five overs.
Rahmat Shah batted with more discretion, but he was out for 10 when Chatara produced a fine delivery that flew off his glove to Mire at point; 39 for three in the ninth over.
Now that it really appeared to be too late, barring near-miracles, the Zimbabwe team was fired up and eager for more wickets.
The batsmen continued their rather risky aggression, though, and the fifty came up after 10 overs.
Lunch was taken at the usual time, with Afghanistan on 63 for three wickets, Asghar Stanikzai on 26 and Samiullah Shenwari five.
After the break Afghanistan kept up an aggressive approach without much in the way of recklessness, until Stanikzai slashed at a ball from Chatara outside his off stump and was caught at the wicket for 31; 74 for four.
After that a steadier and more disciplined approach prevailed for a while.
Chatara bowled his 10 overs without a break, on either side of lunch, and finished with figures of three for 30 for his fine efforts.
The hundred came up in the 22nd over, as Naib hit a rare pitched-up ball from Ngarava for four through extra cover.
The batsmen seemed to be cruising easily towards victory, so it was a surprise when Naib (16) popped a low return catch to Williams; 107 for five.
Shenwari then pulled a ball from Mpofu that landed just out of reach of the two fielders on the leg boundary.
At 121 for five wickets, it seemed as if Afghanistan were virtually home and dry.
Shenwari then fished at a ball from Mpofu outside his off stump and was caught by the wicketkeeper for 29; 121 for six.
Najibullah Zadran had a big swing at his first ball and sent up a huge skyer, which was well held by Moor running round to point, and remarkably Afghanistan were 121 for seven.
Then Nabi, who had 11, stepped back to try an ill-advised drive to a straight ball from Williams and only succeeded in playing the ball on to his stumps; 124 for eight.
In the next over Mpofu bowled a bouncer to Khan (2), who fatally hooked, only to get a top edge through to the keeper.
The score was 124 for nine, with six runs still needed to win, and Zimbabwe were on the verge of an incredible victory.
A misfield allowed Amir Hamza to score two runs through the covers.
However, he sliced the next delivery to backward point and Zimbabwe had won a match they never looked likely to claim after their dismal batting.
The last five Afghan wickets had fallen for just five runs, and the tourists had learnt a serious lesson: the match is not over until the fat lady sings.
The Player of the Match award was shared between Chatara and Williams, which was very hard on Musakanda, who played a superb innings of 60 with no support apart from Waller.
Chatara and Williams had indeed bowled well to take three wickets each, as indeed did Mpofu.
But they were helped by the reckless overconfidence of the Afghan batsmen, which suddenly became panic at the end of the innings when their tail-enders went in completely unprepared mentally for batting.
Musakanda, however, despite his youth and inexperience, had played a superb innings of 60 with no support from anybody else except Waller — in fact he scored exactly half his team’s runs in the match — and without these two Zimbabwe would have been dismissed for 33.
The Zimbabwe team should have gained greatly in confidence from this stunning victory, and if they play to their true ability they can still go on and win the series.
The Afghans, however, should have learned a very sharp cricket lesson and are unlikely to commit such a crime against the game again.
The series is unexpectedly still open, and the fourth match in the series takes place at Harare Sports Club on Friday.