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All-round Zimbabwe stay on course for Super 10s

Wisden India logo Wisden India 10-03-2016

Zimbabwe defeated Scotland by 11 runs in a Group B tie to make it two wins in two games to improve their chances of making it to the Super 10s of the ICC World T20 2016. The biggest talking point, though, for the few hundred fans who, despite the heat and the ticketing issues, turned up for the day’s first match at the Vidarbha Cricket Association stadium in Nagpur on a dry Thursday (March 10) afternoon, would be two spectacular catches from the game, and not so much Zimbabwe putting up 147 or them bowling Scotland out for 136.

The neutral crowd needed the entertainment – after all, they had collected their passes from the old VCA stadium and then travelled for about 40 minutes to reach the new venue because there was just one ticket counter between two stadiums. But the slow nature of the pitch wasn’t alleviating their mood in any way as there was nothing interesting coming off the bat or the ball. On a day like this, fielding turned out to be the unlikely saviour as Michael Leask and Sikandar Raza got the stadium to sound like one with their athleticism.

Batting first, Zimbabwe’s innings had some drama at the start when Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda collided, but that was soon forgotten when Leask drew the spotlight with a blinder. With Hamilton and Sibanda back in the hut, Richmond Mutumbami kicked off a rebuilding process with a series of boundaries. Sure enough, when Mark Watt, the left-arm spinner, tossed the ball up in the ninth over, Mutumbami trusted himself to clear Leask. It seemed like he had put enough muscle on that stroke as the ball slipped through Leask’s palms, but the 25-year-old from Aberdeen whipped his right arm back on an instinct and held on to the catch on the dive inches from the rope.

Leask’s snap, one would have assumed, was the catch of the day. Wrong! Sikandar Raza was the one who finished with that honour.

Wellington Masakadza’s taunting left-arm loop and Tendai Chatara’s pace put Zimbabwe in the driver’s seat as Scotland were reduced to 20 for 2 within the first two overs. Still, Zimbabwe would have been weary because Kyle Coetzer, who made Afghanistan’s bowlers look silly with 40 from 27 balls in Scotland’s first game, was at one end with still some batting to come. Fortunately for them, Raza threw himself full length at a classy looking, if uppish, drive from Coetzer in the fourth over. The result was a breathtaking one-handed catch at short cover that should make for a great poster someday.

The catches themselves were the highlights, but as a larger crowd made its way in, Richie Berrington and Preston Mommsen lifted Scotland’s hopes by putting away Zimbabwe’s bowlers, who were beginning to stray. The score went from 95 for 7 to 124 and within 24 runs of the target, but once Berrington fell to Donald Tiripano in the 18th over, the drama ended and with that Scotland suffered their 20th consecutive loss in an ICC event.

As for the drama earlier in the day, Hamilton, the Zimbabwe skipper, nearly knocked Sibanda out cold by running into him. Responding to the call after Sibanda cut a short and wide ball just wide of point, Hamilton started the sprint way outside the pitch. Hamilton’s tendency, which nearly cost him his wicket the first game before a school-boy error of not grounding his bat did him in, culminated in him crashing into Sibanda. A visibly shaken Sibanda managed to make his way back to the crease, but Coetzer’s throw from point went to the wicketkeeper’s end and Matthews Cross was quick to whip the bails with Hamilton nowhere in the picture.

Zimbabwe had lost a crucial wicket but it looked a lot worse for them because Sibanda was on the ground and he was tended to by the medical staff. A wicket and a retired hurt batsman in one delivery would have been Zimbabwe’s worst nightmare in a crucial tie, but to their relief, Sibanda was up with a plaster across his chin to stop the bleeding and in six minutes play resumed. Sibanda’s bravado, however, lasted only so long as he pulled one straight to Matt Machan at deep square leg the next over.

Zimbabwe were down two batsmen with just 19 runs on board and in desperate need of some stability. Fortunately for them, Sean Williams, who failed in the first game, stepped up to the challenge in the best way possible. On a pitch so docile that the bouncers were barely rearing to chest height, Williams took 21 singles, four twos and five fours en route to his third T20I half-century.

Had Zimbabwe possessed a few big hitters and not just Elton Chigumbura, who made 20 from 17, they might have put up a bigger score, but they wouldn’t mind it at the end of the day because they came up with a good enough all-round effort to get one foot into the Super 10.

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