NAGPUR. — Vusi Sibanda’s first T20I fifty and Elton Chigumbura’s audacious finishing ensured Zimbabwe had enough runs to beat Hong Kong, although they will be disappointed in an all-round messy performance, as the Chevrons got their World Cup underway yesterday.
Three run-outs stunted what should have been a more imposing total, and loose bowling and fielding, and a gutsy Hong Kong chase could have easily pulled the carpet out from under them.
Jamie Atkinson’s career-best 53 held Hong Kong’s innings together but he battled against a constantly rising required rate which ballooned from a shave under eight to more than 13 with five overs left.
With Zimbabwe’s slower bowlers struggling for control, Hong Kong were in it until almost the end, when the task proved just a little too much.
Zimbabwe could have made it a much more comprehensive result with a better batting performance.
They were plagued by lack of partnerships and soft dismissals, which started with the casualness of their captain.
Hamilton Masakadza gave himself an over to get his eye in and then unleashed two fours and a six off seamer Haseeb Amjad.
His innings, however, met a farcical end when he failed to ground his bat or his foot after setting off for a quick single. Babar Hayat nailed a direct hit from mid-off to catch Hamilton short. Sibanda, who had faced only one of the first 14 balls, took over from where Hamilton left off.
Richmond Mutumbami, however, holed out to long-on for a three-ball duck.
On a sticky pitch, Hong Kong’s captain Tanwir Afzal sensed Zimbabwe’s hurry and slowed them down.
Sean Williams was particularly fidgety and fell when he attempted a cut and played on. Sikandar Raza was run-out in the next over, after Sibanda insisted on a second run, and Zimbabwe were left in trouble at 62 for 4 in 7.5 overs.
Sibanda, though, knuckled down and built a steady partnership with Malcolm Waller. They were cautious against seamer Aizaz Khan and Ryan Campbell whose contribution was crucial in pulling Zimbabwe back from a score that seemed to be heading towards 170. Hong Kong conceded just 38 runs in the next six overs before Sibanda slammed left-arm spinner Nadeem Ahmed down the ground to raise his fifty off 40 balls.
Sibanda showed signs of cutting loose, but just as his partnership with Waller seemed set to take off, it ended. Waller gave a gift to sweeper cover, trying to clear the boundary, and then both Sibanda and Donald Tiripano were dismissed.
Hong Kong took three wickets in eight balls to leave Zimbabwe wobbling again.
Elton Chigumbura, however, teed off early.
He hit the ball cleanly and down the ground, slapping 30 off 13 balls to take Zimbabwe past 150.
Ultimately, Chigumbura’s cameo turned out to be the difference after Hong Kong put up an impressive fight. Campbell and Atkinson started slowly in the chase against the discipline of Zimbabwe’s seamers.
The slow-burn approach backfired when Campbell hit Tiripano straight to mid-on. Atkinson could have been removed an over later, on 10, had Sibanda not misjudged a catch at deep midwicket off Wellington Masakadza.
Wellington then had some reward when he trapped Babar Hayat in front but his joy was short-lived.
He was attacked by Mark Chapman, who also went after Raza. But the allrounder had the last laugh when Chapman hit him to deep midwicket with Sibanda redeeming himself.
Atkinson, however, went on to bring up his maiden T20I half-century off 41 balls with a crunch down the ground off Tendai Chatara. Although Hong Kong needed 53 off the last four overs, they would have felt they had a chance.
Zimbabwe brought back their seamers to finish things off.
Tiripano rewarded his captain when he deceived Atkinson with a slower ball that he hit to long-on. But the threat from Hong Kong was only properly diffused in the penultimate over with a Chatara double-strike.
His hat-trick ball was a beamer, which went for four, an indication of Zimbabwe’s sloppy performance. They sealed the win, but will be mindful of the need to tighten up to stay on top of the group. In the fourth over of Zimbabwe’s innings, Sibanda had faced five balls till then, and had sent two of them skimming back over the Hong Kong bowlers’ heads.
Clean, crisp, effortless lofted drives.
Now Haseeb Amjad dropped one slightly short.
Out came the pull.
It isn’t certain how many of the 182 — approximately — spectators at the VCA Stadium sat up a little more alertly at this moment, for Sibanda has a somewhat uneasy relationship with the pull. He connected crisply with this one, hitting it in the air but safely wide of the man at midwicket.
In the commentary box, Pommie Mbangwa definitely got off his seat. “Good shot,” he yelled. “That’s his favourite!”
So it is, just as cheesecake is for certain dieters. Sibanda has been out caught 103 times in international cricket.
ESPNcricinfo has ball-by-ball descriptions of 80 of those dismissals. Of those 80 lovingly described dismissals, 20 have come about with Sibanda playing the pull. He loves the shot, he can’t help playing it.
He scores a lot of runs with it, but it also gets him out a lot. Once, during a home Test-and-ODI series against Bangladesh in 2011, he was out pulling three times off the same bowler — Rubel Hossain.
Haseeb Amjad, though, was bowling at around half Rubel’s pace, and on this Nagpur pitch anything remotely short was sitting up, waiting to be swatted into the leg-side gaps. Three balls later he sent down another short ball, and Sibanda swiveled and forced the square leg umpire into an ungainly crouch.
Later, in the ninth over of Zimbabwe’s innings, Sibanda picked up another pulled four, this one the best of the lot, his weight still on the front foot while dispatching Aizaz Khan in front of square. Once again, a safe shot, its execution owing far more to calculation than impulse.
Calculation over impulse was an overwhelming feature of Sibanda’s 46-ball 59, his first half-century in T20Is.
For a batsman with a wide range of shots, against a modest bowling attack, his wagon wheel showed impressive restraint on a slow pitch. He hit five fours and two sixes, and all of them were the result of two shots: the pull against anything short, and the lofted straight drive when it was pitched further up. Otherwise, given the slowness of the surface, he was content letting the ball come on and showing a full face to push the ball down the ground or work it off his pads. Only one of his scoring shots came behind the wicket.
The restraint was vital to Zimbabwe, who needed someone to tide them through a difficult period when they lost a heap of wickets, some of them carelessly.
“It’s possibly more to do with mindset,” Sibanda said, when asked if he had changed his game in any way. “Also, I just want to achieve a little bit more than I did in the past, and (I’m) just focusing on my game a little bit more than I did before. Hopefully it pays off in the future. “Maybe the more time you play, the more you understand your game, and now I’d like to say I’m getting to know myself a little bit more.” — Cricinfo.