Zimbabwe 174 for 7 (Raza 82, Little 3-24, Simi 2-31, Adair 2-39) beat Ireland 143 for 9 (Campher 27, Muzarabani 3-23, Chatara 2-22, Ngarava 2-22) by 31 runs
Though Zimbabwe were untidy at the end by dropping two catches and allowing Ireland’s tail to wag, their bowlers will be pleased with their returns. Wickets were shared, with seven falling to the quicks and two to the spinners. Sean Williams, who became the player with the longest T20I career of 15 years and 323 days, finished with 1 for 22.
Ireland’s short-ball strategy
Ireland’s fast bowlers clearly had a plan, which seemed to be to bowl short early on, and they stuck to it almost to perfection. Collectively, they only delivered one full delivery in the first five overs while testing Zimbabwe’s top four with pace, bounce and seam movement.
Regis Chakabva was greeted with a ball that kissed his shoulder and cramped him for room, even as it nipped back. The ball eventually caught the shoulder of his bat on its way through to Lorcan Tucker. Wessly Madhevere faced more of the same in the opening over, and top-edged the third delivery he faced from Tucker for four.
He should have been out in the next over when he pulled Mark Adair to Campher at deep square but Campher mistimed his jump and the ball went through his hands. Madhevere made the most of his let-off, rocked back and rolled his wrists to bring out the pull and the whip through midwicket.
However, he tried to take on one short ball too many when he picked out Gareth Delany at deep backward square to give Little a second wicket in his opening spell. Zimbabwe also lost Craig Ervine to offspinner Simi Singh in the powerplay.
Catching in tandem
Williams and Raza steadied and then accelerated Zimbabwe’s innings with a fourth-wicket stand of 42, which was dominated by Raza. Williams had just joined the party with a slog sweep off Simi that went over the short-square boundary for six. But when he tried to repeat it, he found an Ireland pair that was stationed on the rope with good awareness. Adair ran towards long-on to get underneath it but knew his left foot was close to the boundary, so he lobbed the ball back to Harry Tector, who had made his way in from deep midwicket. Adair timed his throw back to perfection as his momentum carried him over the rope, and Tector made sure he was there at exactly the right time.
Stunning Sikandar – Part 1
What a year Raza is having. Since July 2022, he has scored five T20I fifties in nine innings, compared with the one fifty in 47 innings before that. Against Ireland, not only did Raza almost single-handedly ensure Zimbabwe got a solid total, he did so with complete authority over an attack who were dead-set on trying to bounce Zimbabwe out and too often got that tactic wrong.
Raza hit 54 of his 82 runs on the leg side, with 39 off those coming off the pull shot. He hit the ball high and far, and demonstrated a technique that is not always present in a Zimbabwean line-up. Raza’s was the third-highest score by any batter batting at No. 5 or lower in T20Is.
Unlike Ireland’s quicks, Zimbabwe’s went fuller, and let the extra bounce and swing do some of the work for them and ripped through Ireland’s top order in the first four overs. Ngarava struck first when Paul Stirling inside-edged on to his leg stump. Two overs later, Tucker, who had successfully scooped Tendai Chatara over short fine-leg, shuffled across his stumps to sweep but was late on the stroke and was bowled.
From the other end, Zimbabwe introduced their two-metre tall quick Muzarabani, who delivered a Test-match like delivery on a good length on fourth stump, which Tector edged to Ervine at slip. Three balls later, Andy Balbirnie went in exactly the same way although the ball was slightly short of length.
Ireland were 23 for 4 after four overs and 33 for 4 at the end of the powerplay, with the required rate already over ten.
Stunning Sikandar – Part 2
Why contribute in one discipline when you can in two, especially after you have significantly changed the way you execute one of them? That must have been idea for Raza, complete with a new, Sunil Narine-esque action, when he was given the ball in the tenth over, with Dockrell looking dangerous.
Dockrell was on 24 off 18 balls and it was Raza’s job to slow things down. He did one better and foxed Dockrell with a delivery that came out of the front of his hand, snuck under the toe end of the bat and yorked the batter. If that wasn’t enough, Raza also took the catch when the ninth wicket fell to cap off a spectacular all-round performance.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent