HOBART – Zimbabwe announced themselves back on the big stage with a statement win over Ireland in their first major tournament appearance since 2016. It was also Zimbabwe’s first World Cup win over Ireland in four meetings across the 50- and 20-over formats, and puts them second on the Group B table behind Scotland.

In chilly conditions and on a surface with extra bounce, Zimbabwe were in early trouble on 39 for 3 inside the first six overs but had then recovered to 79 for 4 at the halfway stage. Sikandar Raza took the reins from there on, and powered his way to his sixth T20I half-century while also sharing in a 58-run fifth-wicket stand with Milton Shumba.

Raza also added 33 from 17 balls with No. 9 Luke Jongwe at the death to give the bowlers a decent total to defend. He took on the Ireland spinners, as Simi Singh and Gareth Delaney conceded 52 runs in the five overs they combined to bowl. However, the pace bowlers weren’t spared by Zimbabwe either, as Curtis Campher and Mark Adair’s seven overs cost 68 runs, with only left-armer Josh Little posing a real threat.

It turned out to be a good day for southpaw seamers, as Richard Ngarava made the first two incisions into Ireland’s line-up. But Blessing Muzarabani also joined the fun, as Ireland were reduced to 33 for 4 in the powerplay. George Dockrell and Campher put up some resistance with a 42-run fifth-wicket partnership, but once they were separated – by none other than Raza – Zimbabwe’s path to victory was clear.

Though they were untidy at the end by dropping two catches and allowing Ireland’s tail to wag, the Zimbabwe bowlers will be pleased with their returns. Wickets were shared all around, with seven falling to the three quicks and two to the spinners. Sean Williams, who celebrated becoming the player with the longest T2 Ireland’s fast bowlers clearly had a plan for the opening exchanges of their game against Zimbabwe – that seemed to be to bowl short – and they stuck to it almost to perfection. Collectively, they only delivered one full delivery in the first five overs while testing Zimbabwe’s top four with pace, bounce and seam movement.0I career of 15 years and 323 days, finished with 1 for 22.

Regis Chakhabva was greeted with a ball that kissed his shoulder and cramped him for room, even as it nipped back as while tried to cut. The ball eventually caught the shoulder of his bat on its way through to Lorcan Tucker. Wessley Madhevere faced more of the same in the opening over, and top edged the third deliver he faced from Tucker for four.

He should have been out in the next over when he pulled Adair to Campher at deep square but Campher mistimed his jump and the ball went through his hands. Madhevere made the most of his let off, rocked back and rolled his wrists to bring out the pull and the whip through midwicket.

However, he tried to take on one short ball too many when he picked out Gareth Delany at deep backward square to give Little a second wicket in his opening spell. Zimbabwe also lost Craig Ervine to offspinner Simi in the powerplay, which they ended on 41 for 3.

Williams and Raza steadied and then accelerated Zimbabwe’s efforts with a fourth-wicket stand of 42, which was dominated by Raza. Williams had just joined the party with a slog sweep off Simi that went over the short square boundary for six. But when he tried to repeat it, he found an Ireland pair that was stationed on the rope with good awareness, and understood how to work together.

Adair ran towards long-on to get underneath it but knew his left foot was close to the boundary, so he lobbed the ball back to Harry Tector, who made his way in from deep midwicket. Adair timed his throw back to perfection as his momentum carried him over the rope, as Tector made sure he was there at exactly the right time to take the catch. The effort followed some stunners already seen two days into the tournament.

What a year Raza is having. Since July 2022, he has scored five T20I fifties in nine innings, compared with the one fifty in 47 innings before that. Against Ireland, not only did Raza almost single-handedly ensure Zimbabwe set them a competitive target, but also did so with complete authority over an attack who were dead-set on trying to bounce Zimbabwe out and too often got that tactic wrong.

Raza hit 54 of his 82 runs on the on side, with 39 off those coming off the pull shot. He hit the ball high and far, and demonstrated a technique that is not always present in a Zimbabwean line-up. Raza’s is the third-highest score by any batter batting at No.5 or lower in T20Is.

Unlike Ireland’s quicks, Zimbabwe’s went fuller, and let the extra bounce and swing do some of the work for them and ripped through Ireland’s top order in the first four overs. Ngarava struck first when Paul Stirling stayed back to hit him through point but instead inside-edged on to his leg stump. Two overs later, Tucker, who had successfully scooped Tendai Chatara over short fine leg, shuffled across his stumps to sweep Ngarava but was late on the stroke and was bowled.

From the other end, Zimbabwe introduced their two-metre tall quick Muzarabani, who delivered a Test-match like delivery on a good length on fourth stump, which Tector edged to Craig Ervine at slip. Three balls later, Andy Balbirnie went in exactly the same way although the ball was slightly short of length and took the edge as the Ireland captain prodded at it.

Ireland were 23 for 4 after four overs and 33 for 4 at the end of the powerplay, with the required run rate already over ten.

Why contribute in one discipline when you can in two, especially after you have significantly changed the way you execute one of them? That must have been what Raza, complete with a new, Sunil Narine-esque action, was thinking when he was given the ball in the tenth over, with Dockrell looking dangerous with the bat.

Dockrell was on 24 off 18 balls and had taken on Jongwe, as it was Raza’s job to slow things down. He did one better and foxed Dockrell with a delivery that came out of the front of his hand, snuck under the toe end of the bat and yorked Dockrell. If that wasn’t enough, Raza also took the catch when the ninth wicket fell to cap off a spectacular all-round performance.

Source: ESPNCricinfo


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