Robson Sharuko in HOBART, Australia
ZIMBABWE’S stricken World Cup ship, which has run into stormy waters in the past few days, could capsize in the Tasmania sea on Saturday if the Chevrons do not win their do-or-die encounter against Ireland at the Bellerive Oval.
The Zimbabweans have complicated their mission after being blown away by Chris Gayle and then somehow succumbing to a narrow defeat against a struggling Pakistan at the Gabba in Adelaide on Sunday when they appeared to have done enough to win the match.
With only one win, against the United Arab Emirates, to their credit, the Zimbabweans would be on the way home if they don’t beat the Irish in their penultimate game of a campaign that started with so much promise after an impressive dress rehearsal and a spirited run chase against South Africa.
The loss against the Proteas, though expected, and the hammering by the Gayle Force would have been mitigated had they beaten Pakistan and virtually eliminated the Asian side from the equation in the battle for the four tickets into the knock-out stages.
Coach Dav Whatmore has targeted, at least, a place in the quarter-finals and, halfway into the match at the Gabba on Sunday, his men were on course having restricted Pakistan to just 235-7.
In a tournament where teams batting first have generally raked in scores of 300 plus runs, Zimbabwe appeared to have been on course for a victory that would have left them needing just to beat the Irish on Saturday and secure their quarter-final place with a match to spare.
But, as they have so often done when they are under pressure, the Zimbabweans buckled under the onslaught of Mohammad Irfan, with a career best of 4-30, and Wahab Rihad who became the first Pakistan cricketer to take four wickets and also score a half century at a World Cup.
Only seven other cricketers have also done that at this big stage and that Rihad came in at number eight for Pakistan, who at one stage had been reduced for 4-2, demonstrated how much he had helped pull his team out of a big hole.
Zimbabwe didn’t get the start that they were hoping for, with both their openers Chamu Chibhabha and Sikandar Razza falling cheaply, but still, when Brendan Taylor, who scored a half century, was still there, it looked like this was a cruise for a famous win.
However, key wickets were lost in cheap fashion and what had looked like a stroll to the party turned into Mission Impossible as a middle order collapse and an injury to skipper Elton Chigumbura, which took away some of the venom the Zimbabweans might have needed from his bat at the end to take them home, sealed their fate.
Taylor was right that Pakistan was there for the taking and, on reflection, the Zimbabweans are still wondering how they threw this one away.
“We certainly did target this match and we felt that half the job was done particularly well by restricting them to 235,” Taylor observed.
“But they came out in the first 15 overs and made it pretty difficult for us (to score runs).
“We needed a partnership but, unfortunately, 50 and 30-run partnerships won’t get you over the line.
“It is extremely difficult to comprehend this loss.”
But, crucially, Taylor isn’t giving up the fight even though the odds have been shortened by the reality that even if the Zimbabweans beat the Irish, which is within their capacity, they might run into the mighty force of India in their last game in Auckland.
That would be a special moment for Duncan Fletcher, the India coach, who would be facing the team that he captained at their first World Cup in England 32 years ago and, in one of the shock results of this tournament, beat Australia.
Fletcher was the star of that show, scoring an unbeaten 69 and then taking 4-42.
They also had India on the ropes when they reduced the team who would eventually be crowned champions to 17-5 before a magical innings by Kapil Dev rescued the Asian powerhouse as he scored an unbeaten 175 to help them seize the initiative.
A lot has changed since then and, having come close to beating Pakistan, many neutrals will feel that the Zimbabweans blew their best chance to march into the quarter-finals.
The team also feels that way.
“It is always disappointing to lose a game like this when you feel you have a chance to win,” said Chigumbura.
“Our weakness has been that we have not had one guy scoring a hundred or batting through the innings.”
Someone will have to rise to the occasion in the next two matches, beginning with the Irish on the shores of the Tasmania sea, where the pressure is on the Zimbabweans given that a loss will be the end of their campaign.
Sean Williams has shown to be in good touch but he has perished at a time when his team needed him to do even more.
When he was in partnership with Taylor last Sunday, everything looked to be going well for the Zimbabweans.
“We both felt like we were cruising nicely but again we found ways to get out at crucial periods- some soft dismissals as well,” said Taylor.
“That has been a major downfall for us in this the last four games, crucial periods when batters needed to go through initial periods then finding ways to get out.
“It’s not helping the team’s cause. It’s definitely a little more added pressure.”
The former skipper believes that they still feel that they have as high as 80 percent chances of making the quarter-finals and you can’t fault him for being very positive.
Tasmania, though, awaits for them and from the Bellerive Oval, they can clearly see the waves of the Tasmania sea and any failure here on Saturday could see their boat sinking for good.
The last time this ground was used for a big match, Australia and England both scored more than 300 runs in the triangular in January that featured India with the hosts chasing down the total to win in the final over by three wickets.
Zimbabwe have so far only been chasing targets and, once against the UAE, they were successful.
They will need to do everything that the Aussies did right that time, if they are to chase again, to keep their World Cup ship afloat amid the pounding storm that would be wreaking havoc in the Tasmania sea.