Lawrence Moyo Head Zimpapers Sports

LONE RANGER Sikandar Raza starred with bat and ball as Zimbabwe beat Ireland by one wicket in the opening T20 international against Ireland at Harare Sports Club last night.

The nerve-wracking victory came off the last ball with last man Blessing Muzarabani scrambling the two runs needed, off an inside edge.

The Chevrons lead the three-match series 1-0.

It was a historic fixture as it was the first ever international match to be played under floodlights in the history of Zimbabwe Cricket.

And the nail-biting drama was fitting for the occasion and the small crowd that was in attendance had an experience of a “lifetime”.

Ireland made 147/8 off their allotted 20 overs while the Chevrons scrambled 148/9 in 20 overs.

Man-of-the-match Raza was the pick of the bowlers and also the highest run scorer.

Zimbabwe won the toss and captain Raza elected to bowl while his Irish counterpart, Paul Stirling indicated that he would have made the same call.

The hosts handed debuts to middle-order batsman Brian Bennett and fast bowler Trevor Gwandu. Bennett earned a maiden call-up after a late withdrawal of former captain Craig Ervine, who complained of a groin problem late in their prematch preparations.

Asked to bat, Ireland raced to 44/0 before in-form Richard Ngarava got the crucial breakthrough, trapping Stirling leg before wicket for 14 off 10 balls.

Fellow opener Andy Balbirnie followed in the seventh over, knocked over by Raza for 32 off 25 balls amid suggestions he may have got some glove on it to help the ball onto leg-stump and Ireland were now 53/2.

Balbirnie hit six fours and a six for the innings’ top score.

Raza led from the front as he claimed three wickets for 28 in his four overs. At the end of Raza’s spell, Ireland were 115/6 after 16 overs.

Ngarava claimed two wickets for 23 in four overs, including 13 dot balls while Blessing Muzarabani took two wickets for 24 in four overs and had 15 dot balls.

The need to take all wickets meant bowling out the key bowlers leaving Gwandu to take care of the final over, which turned out to be a disaster of some sort as he was hit for 20 runs, 18 of them off the last four balls.

Ireland suddenly had a decent total of 147/8 off their 20 overs while Gwandu’s figures dropped to 38/0 in three overs with Gareth Delany unbeaten on 26 from 11 balls.

Raza would probably look back at the decision to keep the experienced Ryan Burl on just two overs, which cost 13 runs, when he could have contained the Ireland tail better than debutant Gwandu.

In reply, Zimbabwe opened with Wessly Madhevere and Tadiwa Marumani with Raza dropping to middle order having promoted himself to open in the last three games of the 2024 T20 World Cup qualifiers in Namibia.

Madhevere needed one run to reach 1000 T20I runs and he got it the very first ball, becoming only the sixth Zimbabwe batsman to reach the milestone after Raza, Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams, Craig Ervine and Burl.

The opening partnership lasted just three overs as Marumani departed for one run off six balls while number three Williams lasted four balls and scored four runs as the Chevrons slumped to 21/2.

It became 53/3 after 8.4 overs when Madhevere fell for 25 off 26 balls. Raza and Burl steadied the ship a bit before the latter fell for 12 off 13 balls leaving Zimbabwe 91/4 after 13 overs.

Debutant Bennet was next but scored just one run in four balls before falling and leaving Zimbabwe wobbling at 97/5 after 14.3 overs.

Wicketkeeper Clive Madande added a quick 20 off 11 balls in a 35-run stand for the sixth wicket with Raza and departing with Zimbabwe needing 16 from as many balls.

Luke Jongwe lasted four balls and fell for two runs leaving the Chevrons 135/7 with 11 balls remaining.

It was a big wicket as virtually all the burden was left on Raza’s shoulders and the pressure told when he fell for 65 off 42 balls, hitting six fours and two sixes.

Zimbabwe were 137/8 after 18.3 overs and it became 146/9 when Ngarava departed off the penultimate ball with two runs still needed for victory from the last pair.

The 20 runs Ireland got off the final over nearly cost Zimbabwe the match had it not been for Raza’s heroics.

The remaining two T20Is will be day games tomorrow and Sunday at Harare Sports Club with play starting at 1pm.

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