HARARE: A three-run defeat at the hands of United Arab Emirates has left Zimbabwe’s hopes for World Cup hanging by the slimmest of threads.
UAE entered their final game of the 2018 Cricket World Cup Qualifier with little more than pride to play for, having lost all their games against the other Super Sixes sides up to this point. But they played as if there was much more at stake, beating Zimbabwe by three runs in a pulsating game that all but knocked the hosts out of qualification contention.
Only an unlikely low-scoring tie between Ireland and Afghanistan in the final Super Sixes fixture on Friday can still send Zimbabwe through.
It was a game that swayed to and fro with neither side ever holding the ascendancy for long. Zimbabwe drew first blood having won the toss and chosen to bowl, the dismissal of Ashfaq Ahmed (10) coming as early as the fourth over, but that was the only bit of cheer they had for a while.
Rohan Mustafa, the captain, supported the excellent Ghulam Shabber in a 74-run stand for the second wicket. The pair were never bogged down; they played positively, kept the scoreboard moving and, when given the chance, they looked for the ropes.
The 50-run mark of their partnership came up in the 14th over, but as is so often the case, a drinks break was followed by a breakthrough – Sikandar Raza trapping Mustafa in front as he attempted a reverse sweep for 31.
One wicket brought two, Raza striking again as Shabber looked to sweep but exposed his middle stump and was bowled for a 40. At this point, UAE were 106/3, but Shahzad and Shaiman Anwar compiled another partnership to frustrate the home side and the sizeable crowd that had gathered at the stadium.
There were no boundaries for a while as the two batsmen focused on settling down and rotating the strike, but Shahzad got going in the 31st over. He found the fence off both Sean Williams and Blessing Muzarabani, the former even being taken for an inside-out six over cover.
Shahzad brought up his half-century off just 51 balls and looked for more, but was done in by the extra bounce of Tendai Chatara and sliced a skier to cover, precipitating a slide from 180/3 to 198/6 before the tail wagged.
Mohammad Naveed, who scored an enterprising 45 against Afghanistan in the previous game, once again swung his bat around, hammering three consecutive boundaries off Kyle Jarvis. Zimbabwe’s nerves were evident when Raza then dropped a high ball soon after, before the rain came to bring a premature end to the UAE innings, the Asian side having made a creditable 235/7 from 47.5 overs.
After a long and nervy delay – a wash-out would have effectively eliminated Zimbabwe – it was confirmed they would have to chase 230 from 40 overs. Their pursuit started badly as they slipped to 18/2 within five overs, Mohammad Naveed beating both openers for pace. The first, Solomon Mire, was rushed into top-edging a hook, while the second, Hamilton Masakadza, was bowled by one that kept low and cut back in.
When Brendan Taylor, the tournament’s leading run-scorer, fell with the score on 45, and with the run rate becoming cause for concern, the situation looked dire for Zimbabwe. But slowly through PJ Moor and Sean Williams, who added 59 in 16 overs, and then quickly through Williams and Raza, who added 61 in 6.5 overs, they clawed their way back into contention.
Williams’ innings was particularly heroic, with the middle-order batsman battling cramp for large parts of it as he and Zimbabwe began to feel the heat, and when he fell for a run-a-ball 80 the game was in the balance, with 24 needed off three overs.
UAE applied the squeeze, especially Amir Hayat, who bowled the penultimate over and conceded just four. Zimbabwe found the boundary just once more in their innings after the dismissal of Williams but some good running kept them just about in the hunt with 16 needed off the last.
Naveed, who had started so well with that two-wicket burst, bowled the final over. A sliced four through third man from Craig Ervine and a couple of singles made the equation six needed off the final ball. Ervine swung, miscued, and Zimbabwe’s hopes were virtually extinguished, with the winner of Afghanistan’s game against Ireland on Friday 23 March set to qualify in their place.