Afghanistan are on the brink of elimination in the first round of the World Cup Qualifier after a shock 30-run defeat to Hong Kong in Bulawayo.
The Afghans entered the tournament as strong favourites to take one of the two places on offer to play at the World Cup in England next summer. The loss to Hong Kong, though, was their third in a calamitous start to the competition.
Asghar Stanikzai, their captain, pulled out through injury before the start. It was hoped he would be fit to play in the second phase.
But the Afghans were then forced to officially replace him with a new recruit, Afsar Zazai, while their regular wicketkeeper, Mohammed Shahzad, was banned for two matches by the ICC for indiscipline.
The off-field problems have been reflected on the field. Defeat to Hong Kong, in a rain-affected match, followed losses to Scotland and hosts Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe suffered a blow, even though they were without a game on Thursday. Brian Vitori, who took the winning wicket in their thrilling win over against Afghanistan, was suspended from bowling because of an illegal action.
“Vitori's suspension shall remain in place until such time he submits to an assessment of his bowling action at an ICC approved testing centre and the assessment concludes that his bowling action is legal,” the ICC said in a statement. Vitori has been replaced in the host nation’s squad by Richard Ngarava.
Scotland became the first side to book their place in the Super Sixes, after they beat Nepal in Group B.
The four-wicket win was Scotland’s third in succession at the start of the competition. Kyle Coetzer, their captain, was man of the match as he ended 88 not out in Scotland’s chase of 150 to win.
In the other match in the UAE’s group, West Indies were eventually comfortable six-wicket winners over Papua New Guinea, despite being briefly troubled at 58-4 in pursuit of 201 to win.