West Indies v Zimbabwe, Group D, Jamaica March 19, 2007

West Indies through without impressing

West Indies 204 for 4 (Lara 44*, Gayle 40) beat Zimbabwe 202 for 5 (Williams 70, Taylor 50) by six wickets
How they were out - Zimbabwe
How they were out - West Indies

Brian Lara on his way to 44 not out ... he eased nerves with a very unLaralike innings © Getty Images
West Indies overcame a determined challenge from Zimbabwe to book their place in the Super Eights, and although the Zimbabweans are still in the competition, they are holding on by their fingernails. They need to beat Pakistan on Wednesday and then rely on having a better run-rate than Ireland.

The result here was never really in doubt, but it was a lacklustre performance from the hosts with both bat and ball, and they will need to show considerable improvements at the next stage if they are to have any chance of making the semi-finals.

The match never really got out of second gear, which was perhaps understandable given events in Kingston over the last 24 hours. The only time the large crowd really came to life was when Chris Gayle hammered three consecutive sixes off Tawanda Mupariwa, but the fireworks were short lived and the remainder of the proceedings were decidedly low key.

There was a very brief moment - when Marlon Samuels drove loosely to point and West Indies were 129 for 4 chasing 203 - that the spectators' lethargy turned to anxiety. Another wicket and panic might have set in. But an uncharacteristically restrained Brian Lara, aided by Dwayne Bravo, steadied the ship and then eased West Indies home. Even so, Zimbabwe had chances. Twice Lara should have been run-out when a long way from home, and then late - probably too late to make any difference - Elton Chigumbura spilt a tough return catch. The final insult came when substitute Gary Brent dropped Bravo at third man, the ball spilling out of his hands as he hit the ground. The only area that Zimbabwe can compete with the big boys is in the field, and while their commitment was unquestionable, they fell short when it mattered.

Tawanda Mupariwa celebrates his wicket of Marlon Samuels © Getty Images
When Lara won the toss and stuck Zimbabwe in - deciding to let his bowlers make the most of any lingering early-morning moisture - many at Sabina Park probably harboured thoughts of an early finish. Within three overs Zimbabwe were 2 for 2 and that looked to be accurate thinking.

That they eventually posted 202 for 5 was thanks to Brendan Taylor, who played a vital anchoring knock when the innings was coming apart at the seams, Sean Williams, who chanced his arm to good effect to finish with a career-best 70 not out, and Elton Chigumbura, whose boldness was rewarded even if he never really looked settled.

All three made the most of some indifferent bowling. Against Pakistan it had been accurate and probing. Here, after a fiery opening few overs, the bowling was often naïve and too often they failed to bowl to their fields. They also gave away extras at a time when the pressure was really on the Zimbabweans, and missed more than one gilt-edged run-out opportunity.

Full credit to Zimbabwe, who never gave up even after they slid to 59 for 4. Against Ireland their middle order and tail gave up the ghost. Here they battled. It wasn't pretty but it did a job. And when Taylor was run-out for the second match running - and last week that had been the turning point - Chigumbura took up the challenge.

The technique of the top order was again suspect. Friday Kasteni, a veteran of one ODI and precious few other matches of any standard, who was drafted in to open, was cleaned up first ball by Jerome Taylor. The delivery was a good one - a full-length inswinger - but it blasted through a wafer-thin defensive poke and minimal footwork. Vusi Sibanda soon followed, shouldering arms to an inswinger from Daren Powell he thought would go the other way and losing his off stump in the process. Chamu Chibhabha, who was all at sea against the Irish, had a hole blown in his defences by a snorter from Taylor, and then a (relatively) attacking cameo from Stuart Matsikenyeri ended when he limply chipped to mid-on.

Sean Williams on his way to a career-best 70 not out © Getty Images
But Taylor and Williams rode their luck, initially playing and missing as often as they connected, but slowly they began to look more assured and West Indies grew ragged. That set the platform for a final assault from Williams and Chigumbura.

With the crowd expecting a canter rather than a chase, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Gayle were subdued early on, seeing the shine off the new ball and being forced to work hard by the impressive Christopher Mpofu. Gayle, who was almost anonymous in the first few overs, woke as if stung into life by a wasp and for a brief period he was at his indomitable best. He twice hit Anthony Ireland through midwicket for four, and then staged his one-man display of sixes. But as the crowd warmed to the fireworks, Zimbabwe turned party poopers. Chanderpaul, who had been happy to play second fiddle, was well caught by Sibanda at slip, and then, to the clear dismay of spectators, Gayle edged, Taylor fumbled, but Sibanda showed great agility to clutch the rebound.

The jitters then kicked in as Ramnaresh Sarwan drove a return catch to Ireland and Samuels holed out. But Lara is clearly determined to make his mark in this tournament, and he was not about to let the likes of Zimbabwe spoil his day out, even if it meant playing a very un-Laralike innings. It wasn't pretty, although he finished proceedings with a glorious six, but it was good enough.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo