Afghanistan – 111 all out in 38.5 overs (Asghar Stanikzai 19, Mohammad Nabi 17; Chris Mpofu 3/25, Graeme Cremer 2/12, Tendai Chatara 2/32)
Zimbabwe – 107 for 3 in 22.2 overs (Solomon Mire 46, PJ Moor 36*; Mohammad Nabi 2/11, Rashid Khan 1/27)
Zimbabwe won by seven wickets (Duckworth-Lewis)
Zimbabwe put in one of their best all-round performances today at Harare Sports Club to beat Afghanistan convincingly by seven wickets and draw level with the tourists at two victories each in the five-match one-day international series.
First Zimbabwe bowled the shell-shocked tourists out for a feeble innings of 111, and then a fine opening stand between Solomon Mire and PJ Moor made victory almost certain before a wicket fell.
Zimbabwe played an unchanged team for this match, deciding to give some of their under-performing batsmen another chance, but Afghanistan made three changes from their team which had thrown away the previous match.
Conditions were dry, but with rain possible later in the day, and Afghanistan decided to bat on winning the toss.
Ihsanullah, making his ODI début, opened the batting with Mohammad Shahzad, and they faced some good opening overs from Tendai Chatara and Richard Ngarava.
Afghanistan played out two maiden overs at the start, even Shahzad showing caution against fine bowling from Chatara.
From the start Zimbabwe were looking like a new team after their unexpected victory on Tuesday, while Afghanistan appeared to have lost the braggadocio which had characterised their batting in the first three matches.
After five overs there were only three runs on the board, all to Shahzad — and one of these came from a misfield.
Shahzad, unable to restrain himself any longer, drove the first ball of the sixth over straight to mid-off, only for Chris Mpofu to drop the chance. But it was another maiden over.
In the seventh over Ihsanulla, who faced 20 balls without scoring, tried to clip a ball from Chatara for runs on the leg side, but it went straight to Tarisai Musakanda at midwicket, who took the catch.
Afghanistan, in amazing contrast to their reckless batting in the previous match, were this time three for one in the seventh over.
Rahmat Shah pushed his first ball for a single on the off side, but that burst of energy was soon over, and the tentative play resumed.
In the ninth over, with the score still only six, Chatara produced a superb yorker that uprooted Shah’s off stump, for one.
Later in the over Shahzad finally unleashed a cut, and Solomon Mire missed a difficult overhead chance at backward point, allowing the batsmen to take three, bringing the score to 10 in the ninth over.
This encouraged Shahzad to start attacking again. He picked up another two runs, and then hammered a ball from Ngarava straight to midwicket.
He scored nine off 27 balls, perhaps his slowest ODI innings, and Afghanistan were 12 for three in the 10th over, despite two missed catches and two misfields.
In the 12th over came the first boundary of the innings, when Ngarava strayed down the leg side and Hashmatullah Shahidi glanced the ball for four.
This encouraged Asghar Stanikzai to swing at the next ball he faced, from Chatara, with a hint of desperation, but he managed to clear the cow-corner boundary for six.
The bowlers, into their seventh overs, were now tiring, especially Ngarava, who conceded 12 runs off his final over, as the batsmen now found the confidence to go for their strokes, and with success.
Mpofu replaced Chatara, and struck immediately, as Stanikzai (19) pushed at his first ball, outside the off stump, and he edged it to Moor, the wicketkeeper, who took a fine diving catch; 41 for four in the 15th over.
Shahidi seemed to be settling in for a good innings, but when he had 12 he threw it away, slashing at a ball from Chris Mpofu outside his off stump and edging Moor a straight-forward catch; 46 for five in the 17th over.
The team fifty came up at the end of the 18th over, with the five top batsmen out.
Samiullah Shenwari and Karim Janat then stood firm, scoring from ones and twos when they could, without being unduly defensive, but when Janat had seven Moor missed a stumping chance off Graeme Cremer, who was bowling with great skill opposite the pace of Mpofu.
In Cremer’s next over Shenwari (13) fatally swept, and sent a catch off the top edge to fine leg; 68 for six in the 26th over.
Cremer followed up with the wicket of Janat (9) in his next over, as he groped forward and was caught at the wicket for two; 71 for seven in the 28th over.
A slight drizzle began from a now overcast sky as Mohammad Nabi and Gulbadin Naib dug in, and finally the umpires took the players from the field after 32 overs, with the score 89 for seven.
Play was interrupted for almost half an hour, and when they restarted the weather remained very threatening.
The batsmen continued with some confidence before Mire caught Nabi (17) unawares with a faster ball that rose, took the shoulder of his bat and sent a catch to point; 95 for eight in the 35th over.
Mire bowled the new batsman, Rashid Khan, a high bouncer that was naturally called ‘wide,’ and at this point the rain returned, more heavily, and the players again left the field at 96 for eight.
An early lunch was taken – it took just over an hour and a half before play got under way again, and the match was reduced to 42 overs per side.
Naib and Khan brought up the team hundred after 36 overs, but at 103 some brilliant fielding by Malcolm Waller took advantage of a mix-up between the batsmen, and Naib was run out for 10.
Finally Khan, trying to keep the strike, drove a catch to extra cover for 11 and the innings was completed, in the 39th over, for 111.
The innings was notable for superb bowling, timid batting and enthusiastic but not always reliable fielding.
Mpofu had the best figures of three for 25, while Chatara took two for 32 and Cremer two for 12 off eight overs.
No Afghan batsman reached 20, with Stanikzai’s 19 the highest individual score.
This was the lowest total Afghanistan have scored against Zimbabwe, apart from the 58 they made at Sharjah in January 2016, when Luke Jongwe took five wickets for six runs.
Zimbabwe’s target was recalculated to 105 off 42 overs, according to the Duckworth-Lewis calculation for a rain-shortened match.
Fortunately Mire and Moor, the Zimbabwe opening batsmen, did not chase the relatively simple target with the same reckless abandon that was shown by Afghanistan in the previous match.
They played themselves in wisely and then set about taking runs as the opportunities arose, without trying to force the pace unnecessarily.
Mire, on 12, had a little good fortune as he pulled a short ball from Janat just over the head of mid-on to the boundary.
Runs came at an increasing rate, quite safely, and Moor swung a short ball from Janat over the long-leg boundary to bring up the fifty in the ninth over.
When Mire hit Naib for two fours and a huge straight six to the top of the media centre, the Afghan fielders notably wilted.
Mire tried to reach his fifty with a straight six off Nabi, but only succeeded in sending up a huge skyer that was well held at long-on.
He scored 46 off 50 balls, with five fours and two sixes; Zimbabwe were 79 for one wicket in the 15th over.
Now Zimbabwe seemed to be losing their way, as Musakanda scored just four runs, beaten and bowled by Khan’s googly; 83 for two.
This was followed by Craig Ervine (1), edging a drive to the keeper off Nabi; 84 for three.
Afghanistan had already taken some of the gilt of Zimbabwe’s victory, and they now worked hard for more wickets, although only 21 more runs were needed.
Moor and Sean Williams now had to play cautiously to prevent any further breakthrough, and it took almost another six overs before Williams played reverse-sweep for four off Nabi to take Zimbabwe home.
Moor finished unbeaten with 36, and Williams with 16.
The final match in the series will take place at Harare Sports Club on Sunday, with the score two victories to each side.
If Zimbabwe can maintain their momentum, they should win the series after coming from two-nil down in glorious fashion, but Afghanistan will most likely put up a much stronger fight.
The stage is set for a grand finale.