Zimbabwe made a statement in the opening match of their Qualifier campaign, racing to an intimidating 380 for 6 against Nepal and sealing a 116-run win. Cephas Zhuwao and Solomon Mire set the early tone for the Zimbabweans with a rollicking 77-run opening stand, while Brendan Taylor and Sikandar Raza took calm control of the middle overs before wreaking havoc at the death. Both men reached hundreds – from consecutive deliveries – and Zimbabwe charged to a massive total. Nepal were never really in the hunt, and Raza added three wickets to his century to help keep them to 264 for 8 and win the Man of the Match award.
After Zimbabwe’s brisk start, Taylor put on 87 for the fourth wicket with Craig Ervine, bringing up his fifty in even time, before upping the ante with Raza for company. Taylor was circumspect early on, generally looking to play straight, but he also put the reverse-sweep to good use against Nepal’s battery of spin bowlers and consolidated Zimbabwe’s momentum after their rapid opening. Taylor was particularly harsh on Sharad Vesawkar’s offspin, hitting him through the covers and behind square to collect his first four boundaries.
At the other end, Ervine offered the sort of steady accumulation that is his trademark – though he wasn’t completely averse to the reverse-sweep either. Once he fell, edging a forcing stroke off Lalit Rajbanshi’s left-arm spin, Raza joined Taylor and continued the good work. Together they put on 173 for the fifth wicket, the innings steadily gaining steam as Zimbabwe took Nepal’s attack apart.
Raza was particularly severe on the medium-pacers, taking four sixes off Sompal Kami. Several of Raza’s hits landed in the tops of the trees and the second tiers of the stands, with one exiting the ground completely.
He sped past Taylor to reach his hundred from only 59 deliveries in the 48th over. His partner went to his own landmark immediately afterwards, and from a comparatively sedate 90 deliveries.
With that, Raza floored the accelerator to take Zimbabwe past 350, and took 16 from the first three deliveries of the 49th over, delivered by Kami, before holing out at deep extra cover aiming for another boundary. Taylor fell immediately afterwards, lifting an attempted uppercut to Rajbanshi behind square. Their efforts took Zimbabwe to a total that would have taken an extraordinary effort to chase down – though the pitch was a fine one for batting, with little in the way of seam or spin.
Earlier, the recalled Zhuwao made great use of the batting conditions after Graeme Cremer won the toss. He was immediately into his stride, lifting both opening bowlers down the ground for big sixes. Zimbabwe dealt mainly in boundaries in the opening stand, and Zhuwao hit four sixes and three fours in his 41. Solomon Mire was equally punishing, hitting three sixes of his own in a fifty that came at well over a run a ball. After they landed the early blows, Zimbabwe’s middle order ensured a commanding total and an eye-catching start to their qualifying campaign.
“Whether it’s an ODI or a List A, at the end of the day it’s a qualifier match,” Raza said. “We wanted to start well and send a strong message. I wasn’t looking at 380 at the start, but I just kept middling it and luckily it went flying. I felt quite blessed. But I felt the real heroes of the game were Solomon and Cephas at the start. For them to get that start, it really set us up. And then Craig batted with such maturity, and of course Brendan was great.”
Zimbabwe were backed by one of the larger crowds seen at Queens Sports Club in recent times. By the afternoon, virtually every seat in the house was taken, and the effect was noticeable on Zimbabwe.
“It felt great,” Raza said. “On a weekend, Queens always gets a good crowd in. It’s a funny crowd too, and they kept us going with some humour and a lot of jokes. There were all sorts of people in the crowd. Some of my family members, and some of the other guys’ families too, which was really special.”
Nepal’s top order could not muster quite the same oomph as Zimbabwe’s. Brian Vitori bowled with more pace than accuracy in his first spell, and it was Tendai Chatara who provided the early breakthrough. Dilip Nath backed away from a length delivery to give himself some room, but swished right past the ball to have his stumps disturbed.
Nepal were 9 for 1 inside the fourth over, and the early wicket brought captain Paras Khadka to the crease. Faced with a record chase, Khadka played his shots fearlessly, but Nepal could still barely keep up with the climbing asking rate.
Khadka was particularly severe on Kyle Jarvis. He used a good eye and a strong bottom hand to take four boundaries off the 11th over – all in the arc between deep backward square leg and long-on.
Khadka and Gyanendra Malla had put on 54 for the second wicket when Raza was brought on and, almost predictably, immediately provided the breakthrough. With his second delivery of the match, Raza bowled Khadka for 40, and with that Nepal’s hopes of a record chase swiftly evaporated.
Or not quite, as battling fifties from Sharad Vesawkar and Aarif Sheikh at least ensured Zimbabwe were made to sweat in the afternoon sun. Vesawkar reached his fifty in just 43 deliveries, prospering against some of Zimbabwe’s part-timers. Once again it was Raza, back on from the City End, to make the breakthrough. He trapped Vesawkar lbw for a brave 52, and ended his spell with 3 for 48. Despite some biffing from Sheikh and Rohit Kumar down the order, Zimbabwe’s quicks never let go of the game at the death, and the result was never really in any doubt.
“A couple of our starts could have been converted into 80s, or even a hundred, but even so we managed to get 260-odd,” Nepal captain Khadka said. “They batted exceptionally well. Sikandar Raza’s innings was the difference. As a bowling unit, we tried different things and different plans, but they literally.
Credit : ESPN Cricinfo