Zimbabwe 263 for 9 (Masakadza 84, Nawaz 4-47) beat Hong Kong 174 (Rath 85, Raza 3-30) by 89 runs
Zimbabwe recorded their third win on the trot with an 89-run victory over Hong Kong at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo. Zimbabwe's was an innings of two distinct halves. The tournament hosts raced to 137 for 2 in the first 20 overs, but then, as the pitch slowed and Hong Kong's lines tightened, they failed to hit a single boundary after the 32nd over and finally limped to 263 for 9 despite Hamilton Masakadza's 84. Hong Kong's response never really got going, and though Anshuman Rath recorded his second consecutive fifty in the tournament, they were bowled out in the 47th over.
"We knew today was going to be tough," Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer said after the win. "They've beaten Afghanistan, and we didn't want to be in the same boat. So the guys came out firing. The guys really wanted it, I could see it out in the field."
Solomon Mire and Cephas Zhuwao got Zimbabwe's innings off to a flying start after they were, somewhat surprisingly, put in to bat. Dispensing with the need for singles, Zhuwao favoured all out attack and slog-swept the second ball over the match to the square-leg boundary. By the end of the third over, he had added two huge sixes and another boundary to race into the 20s.
More carnage was to come. Against Afghanistan, offspinner Ehsan Khan bowled with both economy and guile, but in different conditions at Queens, Zhuwao smashed his first four deliveries to the boundary. At the other end, Solomon Mire had just a single to his name while Zhuwao rushed into the 40s. But the fun was not to last; shortly after raising Zimbabwe's fifty, Zhuwao slogged at one too many and was well caught by Waqas Barkat on the ropes at square leg for 45.
"I think those [top-order] runs cost us the game," Hong Kong's captain Babar Hayat said. "Although, the way we bowled in the middle overs and in the last overs was brilliant."
Masakadza soon picked up where he left off, and with Mire striking the ball with fierce power at the other end, Zimbabwe ended the opening Powerplay in the healthy position of 81 for 1.
"I think life is quite easy for me at the moment," Masakadza, who was named Man of the Match for his innings, said. "Coming in behind those two - Cephas and Solomon - is quite easy, because they really put the bowlers under pressure. They're getting us off to fast starts, so it's a lot easier for me to come in and take my time and get myself in.
After Mire fell victim to Nadeem Ahmed's left-arm spin, Brendan Taylor joined Masakadza at the crease for the definitive partnership of the match. Together they put on 98 in just over 18 overs, setting what should have been a commanding platform for the tournament hosts.
Masakadza brought up his fifty, from 64 deliveries, with a push down the ground in the 25th over. Masakadza's celebrations often have a relevance, either personal or popular, and today, upon reaching fifty he gave the Wakanda salute from the movie Black Panther.
Taylor, meanwhile, had looked in particularly good touch through (or over) cover today, but an attacking offside shot eventually brought his dismissal. He drove hard at Nawaz and Ehsan Nawaz held a stinging catch inches from the turf at extra cover. The umpires conferred with the fielder to confirm that the catch was taken cleanly, and off Taylor went.
Zimbabwe were 181 for 3 then, and Masakadza took them to the second drinks break in the relatively healthy position of 211 for 3. Just before the break, Masakadza had hit his one and only six, but that boundary - in the 32nd over - remarkably proved to be the last of Zimbabwe's innings as Hong Kong's bowlers staged a brave comeback. With Raza slicing a catch to the cover sweeper and Masakadza slashing a cut to short third man, Zimbabwe slipped to 216 for 5, and to their credit Hong Kong never let them back into the innings.
"There was a period that I got a little ahead of myself, but I calmed down and I was looking to bat at least 45 overs," Masakadza said. "So that [not batting through] was the most disappointing thing for me. It definitely did [slow up] and I got a little frustrated."
Wickets tumbled with some regularity as Zimbabwe tried to hit their way out of trouble, and when Craig Ervine pulled Nawaz to Nizakat Khan on the midwicket boundary, the bowler had his fourth wicket and Zimbabwe were nine down. Just 40 runs had come from the last 10 overs, with four wickets lost.
"It might have had to do with the ball," Cremer said. "Once it got a bit softer, it started sticking in the wicket. Even our guys that were in found it a bit harder to rotate the strike. But the wicket did slow up. When the ball was new, it would skid on and you could just hit through the line of the ball."
Hong Kong must have fancied their chances of pulling off a second upset in as many matches, but Zimbabwe's new-ball bowlers immediately put them on the back foot. Jarvis and Chatara picked up a wicket apiece in their opening spells, and when Hayat failed to read a Cremer wrong 'un, Hong Kong were 35 for 3.
The response from Rath and Scott McKechnie was to cut out all risk from their batting, and they cobbled together a partnership that extended beyond 50 and was composed mainly of ones and twos. But once again it was Sikandar Raza's golden arm that brought the breakthrough. Tired of nudging and pushing, McKechnie aimed an expansive sweep at a full delivery and was bowled for 18.
"We did know it was going to spin a bit in the afternoon, and get a bit slower," Cremer said. With Zimbabwe's spinners constricting Hong Kong's scoring options, their resolve seemed to evaporate. Sean Williams, returning from a broken spinning finger, showed there was no permanent damage with two quick wickets, and Hong Kong were 101 for 6. Raza struck again, spinning one past Barkat to pin him in front of his stumps and reduce them to 107 for 7; it seemed the match would finish in a hurry.
Rath had other ideas. Just as he had done against Afghanistan two days earlier, he slowly built momentum in his own innings. Initially accumulating with correct, upright batting, he slowly came out of his shell and reached his fifty in the 35th over. But there was little support from the other end, and in an unwinnable position Rath eventually fell playing one shot too many.
"The way we bowled, to restrict them to under 300, we knew that if we stayed in we could chase this target," Hayat said. "But with the way they bowled, they didn't give us any chance to get back in the game."
The victory left Zimbabwe assured of a Super-Six berth, though the result of their final match will determine how many points they take through to that stage (only points scored against the other teams that progress are carried through). Hong Kong are also still very much in with a chance of progressing, provided they can beat Nepal at Bulawayo Athletic Club on Monday.