Zimbabwe denied by millimetres
In the end, Zimbabwe's tournament - and this match - came down to a matter of millimetres. When Sean Williams walked off, caught on the boundary for 96, the tension in the camp was plain to see. The coach Dav Whatmore sat in the changing room shaking his head in frustration. John Mooney's catch at deep midwicket had been ruled fair. Or had it?
This was one of those moments where confusion is the only certainty. Mooney positioned his feet with precision to take the catch, and then celebrated when he completed it. The umpires seemed to tell Williams to wait as they checked whether Mooney's foot had stayed in play. But before the replay process was complete, Williams had walked. Nobody seemed to know what was going on.
The odd scenario that played out was that replays kept being shown even as the new batsman Tinashe Panyangara took guard. It looked as if Mooney's foot had touched the boundary, but with Williams already off the field, play went on. Had the umpires called it a six, Williams would have had a hundred, and Zimbabwe would have been favourites to win.
Instead of 26 off 19 balls with Williams still there, Zimbabwe now needed 32 off 19 with only three wickets in hand. Had Zimbabwe triumphed, they would still have needed to beat India in their final group match to have any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals. Instead, Ireland won by five runs. That, in the end, was the only certainty.
It was a devastating way for Zimbabwe's World Cup hopes to end, after Williams and the stand-in captain Brendan Taylor compiled a brilliantly measured 149-run stand that rescued them from a wobbly start chasing 332. After the game, Taylor said Mooney's catch had looked clean initially, but he was not aware what communications had taken place between the umpires and Williams.
"I couldn't tell if the umpire tried to hold him back or anything," Taylor said. "But the way the fielder reacted, it looked pretty clear. I guess that's up for discussion. You generally take the fielder's opinion and you go with it. I don't know, maybe the umpires could have made a stronger call and had a few more looks at it on the big screen on the replays, but that's all history."
The Ireland captain, William Porterfield, was similarly uncertain of the chain of events, although he was under the impression the umpires had given Williams out.
"I thought it was a fantastic catch," Porterfield said. "It's a great skill, he's under pressure, he's close to the line. They showed a couple of replays on the big screen, which is obviously pretty inconclusive. Whether he has or hasn't, I don't know."
Whatever the ending, the fact was that Zimbabwe let themselves down badly in the field earlier in the day. Throughout the tournament they have been outstanding in patches, but that by definition makes them patchy. The captain's innings of Taylor, who made 121 from 91 deliveries, and the 96 from Williams, made this a thrilling contest.
Even after Taylor and Williams were gone, hope remained. Ireland's lack of bowling depth was exposed as Kevin O'Brien sent down the penultimate over with 26 runs needed; Zimbabwe's No. 10 Tawanda Mupariwa plundered him for a six and two fours, and only seven were needed from the final over. But cool heads did not prevail for Zimbabwe, as Regis Chakabva tried to slog Alex Cusack and was bowled first ball.
"Basically six singles, if you're running hard you're going to get the odd two. Our calculations weren't good," Taylor said. "We weren't making smart decisions as batters. We're going to be asking ourselves these questions for a long time and wondering why we didn't get over the line. We were sloppy in many ways, in our bowling, our fielding and shot selection."
Perhaps Zimbabwe's most costly errors came in the field. Ed Joyce was dropped on 34 and on 105, and Kevin O'Brien was also put down. Never did the Zimbabweans seem confident in the field, and too often their hands or feet were out of position. Then there was the indiscipline with the bowling: three no-balls and eight wides, compared to Ireland's one and two.
"We were below poor there," Taylor said. "We were shambolic, to be honest, in the field. You can't give a batsman three chances. Of course he's going to get a big hundred and lay the foundation for his team. Again, we've dropped chances at crucial times. That was the difference between Ireland and us. They were more hungry, they were a bit more energetic. They probably wanted it a little bit more."
How much Ireland wanted it was clear from their celebrations when the last wicket fell. Mupariwa connected with Cusack's third ball of the 50th over, but it flew high to long-on and was taken by Porterfield. The Ireland players mobbed Cusack and Porterfield, their tournament well and truly still alive. This time, it was not a matter of millimetres.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale