Zimbabwe 268 (Raza 68, Burl 50, Paul 3-61) beat West Indies 233 (Mayers 56, Chase 44, Chatara 3-52) by 35 runs

Before the game, West Indies were favourites. At the halfway mark, West Indies remained favourites. And at the midway point of the chase, West Indies were arguably even stronger favourites. Yet, somehow, improbably, preposterously, it’s Zimbabwe that emerged winners by 35 runs, in front of a raucous crowd in Harare.

By virtue of this win, Zimbabwe carry over a strong net run rate into the next round, and two points from this game as well as the same from their win against Netherlands. With a tricky game against Sri Lanka to come in the Super Sixes stage, these could prove vital in boosting their qualification chances – the top two teams from the Super Sixes book their passage to India for the World Cup.

West Indies and Netherlands, the other two teams that are through to the Super Sixes from this group, will now battle to carry over two vital points themselves when they meet on Monday.

The stats from today will show that Sikandar Raza was yet again Player of the Match, picking up two wickets to go with his 58-ball 68. It will show that the under-fire Tendai Chatara with figures was 3 for 52 was the pick of the Zimbabwe bowlers. And it will show Alzarri Joseph with an inconsequential 2 for 42. But this a game that took place within the margins.

It all began rather cagily, with Zimbabwe put into bat on a good batting track but one that was expected to provide some early movement for the seamers. The West Indies seamers, particularly Joseph, exploited the favourable conditions expertly, deriving extra bounce off a good length and moving the ball in the air and off the surface. While it wasn’t exactly an overcast morning in Auckland, it nevertheless brought out the more cautious side of openers Joylord Gumbie and Craig Ervine. By the end of the 10th over they had reached just 37.

West Indies were playing the part in the field too, hurrying behind every lost cause and throwing themselves around to gain any edge. The pressure eventually would tell midway through the 15th over, when Ervine would chip an attempted loft straight to mid-on. But the chance would be spilled – a theme that would recur throughout the innings.

Ervine would eventually fall for 47, but that was 22 extra runs from the point he was dropped. These extra runs would add up. The most egregious missed opportunities though would come off Raza, who was dropped on 1 and 3 off Joseph on the way to what would be a match-winning 68. Ryan Burl would be the other batter to enjoy a second life, being grassed on 39 on his way a fifth ODI fifty.

For West Indies, these would be particularly disappointing in that even discounting these missed chances, their bowling was so effective Zimbabwe were still limited to a subpar 268 – a score Ervine and Raza conceded was about 30 runs short of what they would have liked.

The final 10 overs of Zimbabwe’s innings went for 75 runs, 25 of which came courtesy a streaky last-wicket stand between Chatara and Blessing Muzarabani. That partnership though highlighted the spirit in which Zimbabwe played this game, as the crowd cheered every run and every extra like it were a boundary.

It was this momentum that was carried over into Zimbabwe’s fielding effort, where despite a rollicking start from the West Indies openers – they put on 43 in 6.3 overs – the hosts managed to reel it back, picking up two quick wickets, and then stringing together a period of such sustained pressure that they strung together 16 straight dot deliveries.

All the while, the crowd was amping up, never losing hope. Not even when Kyle Mayers broke loose and struck Muzarabani for a hat-trick of boundaries, nor when his partnership with Shai Hope was reaching threatening levels. And especially not when Mayers holed out at long-off.

For a brief period Hope and Nicholas Pooran looked threatening in a 24-run stand, but then Hope was castled by Raza. Pooran then strung together 41 with Roston Chase, inclusive of some monster hits down the ground, but then Richard Ngarava returned to trap him leg before with a dipping inswinger on middle and leg. Was it going down leg? Perhaps. But there was no DRS for it to matter. In a game of such fine margins, it was scarcely out of place.

And this would continue to be the pattern of the game. West Indies would chip away, threaten to pull clear, and Zimbabwe would reel them back. The crowd raised their tempo throughout; with each subsequent wicket it would get louder, until eventually the West Indies batters were gradually worn down.

When nudging it around and singles would have sufficed, Keemo Paul would be trapped lbw looking to reverse-sweep. Jason Holder, having put together 37 with Roston Chase, would fish outside the off stump and edge through to the keeper. Chase would be the penultimate man to fall, chopping on trying to cut one that was too close to cut. The last would be Joseph, the man who had had so many chances put down, flicking low and hard straight to a catching midwicket, with none other than Raza stationed there.

Should West Indies miss out on the big prize – that spot in the 2023 World Cup – it’s a game they will look back on and wonder how it came to be. And so, indeed, might Zimbabwe.


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