ZIMBABWE’S cricketers yesterday produced another fine display of the never-say-die spirit which has been fuelling their quest for a place at next year’s ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales with a comprehensive demolition of Ireland at Harare Sports Club.
The Chevrons looked in a spot of bother, in their first match at their traditional home ground as pressure from an estimated 7 500 fans and some inspired Irish bowling on a difficult pitch, showed in their innings which saw them slip to 139-7 by the 34th over.
Ireland, who controversially beat Zimbabwe by five runs in the two teams’ last meeting in the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in Hobart, Australia were on the front foot and favourites — at that stage — to pick the two crucial points and enhance their chances of qualification.
Only Sikandar Raza, of the established batsmen, was still standing and the good money was on Zimbabwe collapsing to a score which the Irish would chase easily on their way to posting victory.
However, in the past these Chevrons would have collapsed, but somehow found an extra gear with a display of defiance as Raza, who has been a man on a mission with both bat and ball in this World Cup qualifying adventure, refused to yield to the pressure.
Instead, the all-rounder shepherded the tail and together with Tendai Chisoro, the duo put 42 vital runs for the eighth wicket with the later scoring 21 of those runs with Raza providing great leadership on the pitch amid some tight bowling from the Irish.
Then, after Chisoro was gone for a great innings for his country, Raza combined with Blessing Muzarabani, the youngest member of the team, to push Zimbabwe past the 200-mark and by the close of their innings, the Chevrons had posted 211-9.
Their refusal to be bowled out, when they had been seven wickets down by the 34th over with only 139 on the board, was a magnificent display of their never-say-die spirit which they have been displaying at this World Cup Qualifier.
When they have had their backs to the wall, as was the case yesterday, the Chevrons have responded very well and they did just that when, after failing to get past the 200-run mark against Afghanistan in a Group B game at Queens Sports Club, they found a way to respond with the ball and beat their nemesis by two runs.
Even when Scotland needed just a run to win the other Group B match in Bulawayo, the Zimbabweans never gave up and Muzarabani and wicket-keeper Brendan Taylor combined to get the final Scottish wicket and force a tie for a very crucial point which they carried into the Super Six.
And, yesterday, the Chevrons showed those fighting qualities as they powered to a 107-run victory over a shell-shocked Ireland, who never knew what had hit them, after they had gone into the innings break favourites to win the match.
Chisoro, who took 3/22 and captain Graeme Cremer, 3/18, were the destroyers-in-chief while there was a wicket each for Raza, named man-of-the-match yesterday, Sean Williams and seamer Kyle Jarvis.
Now, what the Chevrons simply need to do is win their remaining two matches against the West Indies and the United Arab Emirates and they will book one of the tickets to the ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales next year.
Even if they lose against the Windies, with so many other contestants cancelling each other out, it appears that a victory over the UAE might still be enough for a trip to the World Cup.
After their shambolic display in the UAE where they were soundly beaten 1-4 in an ODI series by Afghanistan, the Chevrons have turned it around — in typical Zimbabwean style where we seem to be specialists in defying those who would have written us off — and their performances have been rich in both quality and spirit.
“We have a realistic chance now to qualify, I think a lot of people wrote us off after the bad series in Sharjah, but we never wrote ourselves out as we looked at each other and knew we had under-performed and under-achieved in the last few tours,” said Raza yesterday.
“Coming back home for the qualifiers, we genuinely believed we had a chance, and to be here with five points, proves we have more than a good chance to qualify and go to England and Wales next year.”
The fans have also been playing a hand in this adventure and yesterday they turned out in huge numbers to cheer the Chevrons to victory showing, once again, that nothing beats the joy that is driven by seeing your country doing very well in whatever sphere.
There is a spring in the step of these Chevrons and one gets the feeling that they really believe that they are the best team at these qualifiers now, the Windies included and all they need is to hold their nerve and a ticket to the World Cup will be there for them.
We seem to have done the harder part and we have to finish this job, together as a united country and it’s good that even when we appear to be down we are showing the world that we are not yet out.