Fundamentals pay off for finisher Williams
Sean Williams must be a good actor. Calm at the crease, using the experience of 71 one-day internationals to grind down a confident UAE outfit. At least, that was how he appeared while knocking the ball around during the tense middle overs of Zimbabwe's chase in Nelson. It worked, earning Zimbabwe a victory and Williams a Man of the Match award. It was not as easy as it looked.
"I could feel it out there," Williams said. "I tried not to show it. Try to breathe, relax, try to hit the ball down the ground, that's the way we've been training, and it ended up paying off.
"From the previous game against South Africa, I came in and felt very flustered at the wicket. I learnt my lesson very quickly there to come in, get in, hit the ball down the ground, build an innings and then go from there. Wickets in hand at the end is always the goal."
When Williams walked to the crease at 112 for 3, Zimbabwe were looking shaky in their chase of 286. Shaky became downright unsteady when Brendan Taylor and Solomon Mire fell and left the total at 167 for 5, with Williams and Craig Ervine needing desperately to steer the pursuit back onto Zimbabwe's intended path.
And they did just that, combining for an 83-run stand that pushed Zimbabwe to within sight of victory. Ervine fell for 42, but Williams stayed until the end and struck three consecutive fours off Mohammad Naveed to secure the result with two overs to spare, the winning shot a lovely drive straight down the ground for four.
It saved Zimbabwe's blushes: UAE have never beaten a Full Member of the ICC in a one-day international, and after Zimbabwe's encouraging performance in their loss to South Africa it would have been a crushing letdown to lose here. But Zimbabwe were sloppy in the field and were surprised by UAE's ability to hit down the ground and not just across the line.
"Zimbabwe versus the UAE, a lot of people might have thought Zimbabwe should have walked over UAE," Williams said. "But that clearly wasn't the case, and it clearly wasn't the case in the change room this morning when we arrived at the ground. We didn't know what to expect from them. They put up a really, really good performance with the bat. Our fielding wasn't that great today, it let us down in a lot of ways.
"Their bowling department, they were very well disciplined up front. I thought our opener Regis Chakabva, he was under a lot of pressure, he faced a lot of balls. It was just a matter of time before a wicket was going to fall, and that ended up happening. I guess they just need to learn when the key moments are in the game, same with Zimbabwe, we're still learning, trying to understand when the key moments are and when to put the foot on the gas."
Chakabva occupied the crease for 62 balls for his 35 before he trod on his stumps, and Zimbabwe missed the man he replaced at the top of the order, Chamu Chibhabha, who had scored 64 against South Africa.
"He was playing with an injured knee against South Africa and was struggling to run a little bit," Williams said of Chibhabha. "He failed his fitness test yesterday, so he couldn't play, which was a big loss for us. But he's currently under physio and I'm sure he'll be ready for the next game."
The UAE captain Mohammad Tauqir said he was pleased with the way his men competed on the big stage, his country having not played a World Cup game since 1996. However, he acknowledged that it was an opportunity missed, given the wickets UAE had taken early in Zimbabwe's innings.
"They had a good partnership in the middle," Tauqir said. If we had taken that wicket I think the result would have been different ... Quite a few positives from the game, all the batters batted well, the bowlers did a decent job. Definitely an opportunity missed. It was a good game of cricket, went to the wire and they won at the end."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale