TABLE-TOPPERS Zimbabwe run into the West Indies in a high-stakes clash of the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier at Harare Sports Club today.
The home team need to win this match to remain in control of their destiny. Zimbabwe are even closer to their dream than they would have imagined before yesterday’s fixtures which saw one of their rivals in the Super Six race, Scotland, sufffering a huge setback following their 25-run loss to Ireland at the same venue.
The result worked largely in favour of Zimbabwe who now need just one win in their last two matches to secure their place at next year’s World Cup to be hosted by England and Wales.
Zimbabwe play West Indies today and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday in their last match. The West Indies and Scotland are scheduled to cancel out each other later this week in the final matches of the Super Sixes.
As has often been the case with Zimbabwe, crowds have played a big role in their campaign. The Chevrons have managed to stay unbeaten in five games and today they need their fans more than before against the pre-tournament favourites who desperately need a win to stay in the hunt after stumbling against Afghanistan in their previous assignment last week.
And it’s not a secret that all roads will lead to Harare Sports Club today as thousands of Chevrons fans make their way to the famous Harare cricket venue to watch captain Graeme Cremer and his troops taking on Chris Gayle and his mighty Windies in this crunch Super Sixes tie.
On Friday, 7 500 partisan home fans watched the Chevrons dismantle Ireland by 107 runs and today a much bigger number of spectators is expected at Harare Sports Club for this blockbuster.
Zimbabwe and the West Indies are in the top three on the Super Sixes table, and know that the outcome of this game could have a big impact on their immediate future.
On six occasions in the past, starting all the way back in 1983 and stopping over in 1992, 1996, 2007 and 2015, these two teams have faced off in the ICC Cricket World Cup itself.
For the 2019 edition, though, they have had to go through the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018, and done well to stay in contention for those two prized slots.
As things stand, with all teams having played the same number of games, Zimbabwe are No. 1 on the Super Sixes table with five points, the same as Scotland, while Windies are at No. 3 with four points after the reversal against Afghanistan.
The game between Zimbabwe, the hosts, and Windies, the two-time world champions, therefore becomes a big one, perhaps the biggest of the competition so far simply because they have the most international experienced among the 10 participating teams, Windies much more than Zimbabwe. And when they go out at Harare Sports Club today, there will be two teams that feel they have a right to be in the United Kingdom in the summer of 2019.
Windies had an all-conquering run in Group A, and started the Super Sixes with the maximum possible four points in the bag. Then came the hiccup. Afghanistan, more down and up in Group B, had their spinners running rings around the Windies batsmen to restrict them to 197-8.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Sharafuddin Ashraf picked up seven wickets between them. Afghanistan’s chase wasn’t a straightforward affair, and the Windies bowlers sent seven of the batsmen back keeping the innings going till the 48th over before the job was done.
It ended in favour of Afghanistan, and that has set Windies back a bit. But the four points they had to start with has meant that they are still very much in the race, and in a good position too.
For Windies, the problem is when their big hitters don’t fire. Chris Gayle and Evin Lewis at the top, and Rovman Powell later, are the men with the powerful shots. There are enough batsmen to keep the innings steady, with the likes of Marlon Samuels, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope and Jason Holder all capable of consolidation and brick-laying. But, on evidence, if Gayle or Lewis don’t fire at the top, the team is set back.
Holder, in fact, has led by example through the tournament, and is Windies’ highest run-getter as well as highest wicket-taker, with 201 and 10 respectively. Apart from him, Kemar Roach has been effective with the ball, and Keemo Paul was impressive in his first outing, against Afghanisan, keeping things tight and picking up a couple of wickets.
Zimbabwe’s story, meanwhile, is not too different from that of Windies. Like Holder, Sikandar Raza has been the talisman for them, aggregating 263 runs and picking up 11 wickets at an economy rate of 3.75 from five games. Brendan Taylor has been the other batting stalwart. He has looked hungry for one more splash at the World Cup, scoring 304 runs and partnering Raza in most things good about Zimbabwe so far.
Beyond them, though, it has been a mediocre run for Zimbabwe batting-wise. Cephas Zhuwao has started with a bang most times but not been able to carry on, while Hamilton Masakadza and Craig Ervine have only played one good innings apiece. Sean Williams, the other big name in the batting department, hasn’t quite come to the party yet either.
The good things from Zimbabwe’s point of view is that Raza has had a lot of support with the ball — Graeme Cremer, the captain, has been among the most miserly in the tournament, while Tendai Chisoro has made a mark too. Among the pacers, Brian Vitori’s suspension did come as a big blow to the team, and while Tendai Chatara, Blessing Muzarabani and Kyle Jarvis have done their best, they have been a bit below par.
It needs to come together for Zimbabwe in perhaps their toughest test in the competition, which is also the case for Windies. If all guns blaze, it should make for a cracking contest.
Sikandar Raza (Zimbabwe): He has been the stand-out star of the tournament, and while it’s difficult to pick his best performance, the innings in the last game against Ireland deserves mention simply because it underscored Raza’s determination and drive to get to the World Cup. The total was 87-5 when he walked in, and became 139-7 not long after, but Raza packed away all his big shots and ensured that he batted till the end of the 50 overs. Chisoro was a willing ally, and Raza did the job, ending on an unbeaten 69, opening up towards the end to hit two sixes off Barry McCarthy in the final over. If he keeps doing the job with bat and ball, Zimbabwe will stand in good stead.
Chris Gayle (Windies): When he scored 123 in 91 balls in his first match of the tournament, it seemed like Gayle was in the mood and keep up the good run. It hasn’t quite been the case, and the 46 against the Netherlands has been his only other contribution of substance. It’s time now for him to live up to his reputation. Windies are still in the race, but another defeat might put them out of it, and it’s the perfect stage for the big man to deliver.
Big totals have been at a premium, but Zimbabwe and Windies are both capable of turning it on and entertaining the crowd despite the wear-and-tear on the pitch. The weather should be nice come match day, with the temperature in the mid-20s and some clouds hovering about.
Zimbabwe: Graeme Cremer (c), Tendai Chatara, Tendai Chisoro, Craig Ervine, Kyle Jarvis, Hamilton Masakadza, Solomon Mire, Peter Moor, Blessing Muzarabani, Sikandar Raza, Brendan Taylor (wk), Malcolm Waller, Sean Williams, Cephas Zhuwao
Windies: Jason Holder (c), Jason Mohammed, Devendra Bishoo, Carlos Brathwaite, Chris Gayle, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope (wk), Evin Lewis, Nikita Miller, Ashley Nurse, Keemo Paul, Rovman Powell, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Kesrick Williams. – Sports Reporter-ICC