Zimbabwe Bows Out Of Cricket World Cup
5 July 2023
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For the second time in two Qualifiers, Zimbabwe have fallen short at the final hurdle, and as a result they won’t be at the 2023 World Cup. They needed to win one of their last two matches, just as in 2018, and they failed to do it, just as in 2018.

It’s a fascinating quirk of sport that hindsight can completely colour the view of an event. When Scotland were being strangled by Zimbabwe’s bowlers throughout their innings, barely managing to keep their run rate at above four an over, it looked like Zimbabwe had by far the better of the proceedings.

When Scotland somehow clawed together a total of 234, courtesy a burst of 54 runs in the last five overs, it looked like they had got up to a fighting total but not one that would realistically trouble an in-form Zimbabwe batting line-up littered with experience – especially in front of a home crowd that has been electric all tournament.

But when Chris Sole’s express pace sent Joylord Gumbie, Craig Ervine and Sean Williams packing inside the first seven overs – the first caught behind, the other two clean bowled – that innings-long strangle began to take on a different sheen, one instead of steely resolve. And when all was said and done it was Zimbabwe that blinked first, falling 31 runs short, as Scotland knocked them out in dramatic fashion.

If ever there was a team victory, it was this. Before Sole’s heroics, there were no less than six batters pitching in for 20 runs at least, on a sticky surface in Bulawayo, of which Michael Leask was the pick of the bunch with a 34-ball 48 .

Leask aside, only Brandon McMullen (34 off 34) and Mark Watt (21 off 15) scored at even a 70-plus strike rate of the six batters who passed 20. But they ensured that Scotland ticked off the most important box on surfaces like this: they batted through their 50 overs.

Then, with the ball, every one of the six bowlers used picked up at least one wicket, driving home the team ethos. Together they weathered a Ryan Burl-led counterattack, which included fifth- and sixth-wicket stands of 54 and 73 with Sikandar Raza and Wesley Madhevere – both partnerships ticking along at nearly a run a ball. The required rate throughout all this was just a touch above four. The pressure was on the Scottish bowlers, but they never lost hope, knowing that a wicket would change the game’s complexion. And so it proved.

In an innings filled with wickets falling to good balls, Raza holing out at long-off would go down as an unforced error. It was at this moment that Scotland may have begun to believe.

But then Madhevere – a player who hadn’t played an innings of note all tournament – strung together the game’s biggest partnership with Burl, as the pair found the odd boundary and milked the ones and twos. Enter Mark Watt, who had earlier stitched together 21 from 34, and he got one to grip and turn, trapping Madhevere in front to grab his only wicket of the game.

This left Burl with just the tail for company. Burl soldiered on to a career best 83 off 84, but it wouldn’t be enough. With 38 needed off the last 11.3 overs, and with only two wickets remaining, he mistimed a slog-sweep to midwicket, having dispatched the previous two deliveries for four and six. In a game with so much on the line, such heartbreaks were inevitable.

None more so than for Williams, the standout player of the tournament, with 600 runs at an average of exactly 100. He received a corker from Sole. This was a moment tailor-made for Williams but in life there are things you cannot quite account for – a 149kph thunderbolt nipping back in at your off peg being one of them.

On the flip side of heartbreak is euphoria. Scotland had now beaten three Full Member teams in this tournament. Had they lost today, they would not have had the chance to play ODIs for another year at the least.

They’ve topped league two on the way to these qualifiers, beaten sides more vaunted than them, and now have to go once more on Thursday against Netherlands. If they do what they need to do, they’ll have a whole lot more cricket to gear up for.