Sikandar Raza and bowlers help Zimbabwe secure first World Cup victory over Ireland

Sikandar Raza and bowlers help Zimbabwe secure first World Cup victory over Ireland

Zimbabwe 174 for 7 (Raza 82, Madhevere 22, Little 3-24) beaten Ireland 143 for 9 (Campher 27, Muzarabani 3-23, Chatara 2-22) by 31 points

Zimbabwe announced their return to the big stage with a decisive win over Ireland in their first appearance at a major tournament since 2016. It was also Zimbabwe’s first World Cup win against Ireland. Ireland in four matches in the 50 and 20 plus formats, and places them second on the Group B table behind Scotland.

In cold conditions and on a surface with more rebound, Zimbabwe struggled early with 39 for 3 in the first six overs, but then recovered to 79 for 4 halfway through. Sikandar Raza took the reins from there and worked his way to his sixth T20I half-century while also sharing a 58-run fifth-wicket stand with Milton Shumba.

Raza also added 33 balls from 17 with No. 9 Luke Jongwe at the death to give the bowlers a decent total to defend. He faced the Irish spinners, as Simi Singh and Gareth Delaney conceded 52 runs in the five overs they combined to bowl. However, pace bowlers were not spared for Zimbabwe either, as Curtis Campher and Mark Adair’s seven overs cost 68 runs, with just the left arm. Josh Small posing a real threat.

It was a good day for left-handed seamstresses, because Richard ship made the first two incisions in the composition of Ireland. But Muzarabani Blessing also joined the fun, as Ireland were down 33 for 4 on the power play. George Dockrell and Campher put up some resistance with a 42-game fifth-wicket partnership, but once they were pulled apart – by none other than Raza – Zimbabwe’s path to victory was clear.

Although they were messy at the end dropping two catches and leaving Ireland’s tail tossing around, Zimbabwe’s bowlers will be pleased with their comebacks. Wickets were split all around, with seven falling on the fast three and two on the spinners. Sean Williams, who celebrated becoming the player with the longest T20I career of 15 years and 323 days, finished with 1 for 22.

Ireland’s shortball strategy
Ireland’s fast bowlers clearly had a plan for their opening rally against Zimbabwe – which appeared to be to play short – and they stuck to it almost to perfection. Collectively they delivered just one full delivery through the first five overs while testing Zimbabwe’s top four with pace, rebound and seam movement.

Regis Chakhabva was greeted with a ball that kissed his shoulder and hampered him for room, even as she pinched herself as she tried to cut. The ball finally caught his bat’s shoulder on its way to Lorcan Tucker. Wessley Madhevere faced more of the same in the opener, and edged the third book he faced from Tucker for four.

He should have been out in the next game when he fired Adair towards Campher at the deep square, but Campher mistimed his jump and the ball went through his hands. Madhevere made the most of his let go, rocking back and rolling his wrists to bring out the pull and whip through the midwicket.

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

Catch in tandem
Williams and Raza stabilized and then accelerated Zimbabwe’s effort with a fourth wicket from 42, dominated by Raza. Williams had just joined the party with a hard shot from Simi that broke the short square limit for six. But when he tried to repeat it, he found a pair from Ireland who were parked on the rope with a clear conscience and understood how to work together.

Adair ran to long to go under, but knew his left foot was close to the boundary, so he fed the ball to Harry Tector, who forced his way in from deep midwicket. Adair timed his throw 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 hold. The effort follows some stuns already seen two days into the tournament.

Superb Sikandar
What a year Raza passes. Since July 2022, he has scored five T20I fifty in nine innings, compared to one fifty in 47 innings previously. Against Ireland, Raza not only ensured almost single-handedly that Zimbabwe set a competitive target for them, but also did so with complete authority on an attack that was determined to try to bounce Zimbabwe back and that is too often the wrong tactic.

Raza hit 54 of his 82 points from the side, with 39 of those coming off the shot. He hit the ball high and far and demonstrated a technique that is not always present in a Zimbabwean formation. Raza is the third highest scoring by any hitter at No. 5 or lower in the T20I.

Ngarava, Zimbabwe count their Power Play Blessing(s)

Unlike Ireland’s rapids, Zimbabwe became more complete, and let the extra bounce and swing do some of the work for them and ripped through Ireland’s best order in the first four overs. Ngarava struck first when Paul Stirling stayed back to hit him through the point, but instead struck inside on the stump of his leg. Two overs later, Tucker, who had managed to pick up Thank you on a short thin leg, crossed his stumps to sweep Ngarava but was late on the stroke and was launched.

On the other side, Zimbabwe fielded their fast two-metre high Muzarabani, who delivered a test match as a delivery over a good length on the fourth stump, which Tector edged out to Craig Ervine at the slip. Three balls later Andy Balbirnie did exactly the same although the ball was slightly short and took the lead as the Irish captain pushed it.

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

Stunning Sikander – part 2
Why contribute in one discipline when you can in two, especially after you’ve dramatically changed the way you run one? That must have been what Raza, with a new Sunil Narine action, was thinking when given the ball in the tenth, with Dockrell looking dangerous with the bat.

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

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent in South Africa

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