'Sad we didn't get over the line' - Lake
For a brief period in Townsville, India had a fright in a game they had to win to avoid being sent to the Plate Championship of the Under-19 World Cup. From the boondocks of 30 for 4, Zimbabwe's Malcolm Lake resurrected the chase of 262. He singlehandedly dragged his team along with his clean, long-handled hitting but cricket isn't supposed to be played by one man against 11. Lake was the last man out in the 45th over, having scored 118 out of 198, with the next highest contribution being 29.
Lake, only just 18, is a tall allrounder from Harare who bowls right-arm medium pace but bats left-handed, like other illustrious Zimbabwe allrounders Neil Johnson, Sean Ervine and Andy Blignaut did.
After making a duck against Papua New Guinea, he chose the grandest stage of his career so far to play his best innings.
"It's definitely my highest score," Lake said. "It's up there with the best I've batted for my team, just sad we couldn't get over the line [in] the end."
He had an 87-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Luke Jongwe, which revived the chase, and it ended with a run-out that left Lake sitting on his haunches and shaking his head in disappointment as his partner walked back. His remaining partners did not stay as long.
"In the beginning with Luke, [we wanted to] just knock it around, get ourselves into a position from where we can expand later, from where we can hit and get the big shots away," Lake said. "Near the end I just wanted a partner. I was excited about the hundred but just sad we didn't get over the line."
And he did play some big shots. The boundaries at Tony Ireland Stadium are of considerable size, although one side was shorter than the other today because the pitch closest to the pavilion was used. Lake picked out gaps in the off-side field for his fours but preferred the long-on and midwicket region when attempting sixes. He cleared it four times.
His coach Chris Harris called it a "magnificent innings." "It was one of those innings, when looking from the sidelines, you felt as though you had a chance, how well he was striking the ball," Harris said.
This century, however, was a dramatic turnaround in form for Lake, who had been struggling for runs even before his duck against Papua New Guinea. "He's probably been in the worst nick of his life leading up to this tournament," Harris said. "He'll be the first to admit it. But he's a tremendous striker of the ball and he is very much a confidence player, and we'd like to think he picked up a lot of confidence today. I've always seen him as a match-winner."
Some of Lake's confidence with the bat would have come from his bowling performance, an economical seven-over spell that prevented India from getting 300. Harris reckoned Lake could have been faster than he was, and Lake also said he had told himself "not worry about the pace, get it in the right areas."
Those right areas were short of a length and straight. Kyle Bowie, Curthbert Musoko and Jongwe, however, bowled a fair number of full balls but were primarily guilty of giving India's batsmen width to free their arms. India were 122 for 0 when Lake began his spell in the 23rd over.
"During practice, we had been through a few plans [for the Indian batsmen]," Lake said. "The main plan was definitely to bring the length back and put them on the back foot. Campbell [Light] and I bowled very well to that plan."
Lake broke through in the third of his seven consecutive overs, giving Zimbabwe their first wicket, and denied the batsmen scoring opportunities. And though he had three overs remaining, he was not used anymore after the 35th over and ended on 1 for 19.
That wasn't the last questionable bowling decision the Zimbabwe captain Matthew Bentley would make. Light had been introduced only in the 42nd over and he had figures of 3 for 14 in three overs before conceding eight in the 48th over. Bentley replaced Light with Musoko for the 50th and watched Kamal Passi plunder 24 runs, propelling India from 237.
"To be fair [to Bentley], part of the reason Curthbert has been picked is to bowl at the death, he's been practising it," said Harris. "From Matthew's point of view, he thought Curthbert was the specialist bowler picked to do it. Today he had an off day."
Zimbabwe now need to beat West Indies and also get their net run-rate higher than that of India, who will probably beat Papua New Guinea. If they can't do that, they will compete for the Plate Championship, after which several players will hope to secure places in Zimbabwe's domestic franchise system.
Harris had said that several of the Under-19 cricketers had come through the age-group system and it was vital their talent wasn't lost after this World Cup because Zimbabwe Cricket had invested heavily in them. Lake is one such investment. He hasn't played first-class cricket yet and he hopes his performance has caught the attention of the franchises.
"I've come through all the age groups of Zimbabwe Cricket," he said. "The standard of school cricket in Zimbabwe is what's brought me through, many coaches at school and national level have brought me to this point. I'm still to see where cricket takes me, and where I'm going in my life."
With the right breaks, Lake could begin to follow the path Johnson, Ervine and Blignaut took.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo