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

Home team gleams despite scrappy affair



Shivnarine Chanderpaul crawled to 21, but West Indies remained unbeaten © AFP

The finishing touches from Brian Lara, a pristine cover-drive and an imperious loft over midwicket, gave the result a misleadingly emphatic touch and somewhat obscured Zimbabwe's gallant effort over 98 overs. But after a victory that the coach, Bennett King, referred to as "scrappy", West Indies are right where they want to be, in the Super Eights and safe in the knowledge that victory against the surprise packages from the land of Guinness will almost certainly ensure two points to carry over.

A game played out in the shadow of Bob Woolmer's untimely passing never really scaled great heights, though Zimbabwe showed enough character and application to suggest that they can't be discounted from the equation just yet. At 2 for 2, with the exciting Vusi Sibanda having committed a gross error of judgment, the roof could so easily have caved in. However, Brendan Taylor's obduracy and some delightful strokeplay from Sean Williams frustrated West Indies for 23.2 overs, allowing Elton Chigumbura the freedom to play a cameo that stretched the total beyond 200.

They didn't disgrace themselves with the ball either. Tawanda Mupariwa may have the odd nightmare about the three huge sixes that Chris Gayle walloped off consecutive deliveries, but the discipline that he showed to concede barely a run thereafter said much about the spirit of Kevin Curran's side. The mistakes and dropped catches in the field proved costly though, and watching Taylor fumble a catch for the second game in succession, you were reminded of a certain Tatenda Taibu. Add in a player of his class, and you might actually have a half-decent side.

"It would have been nice to get a win," Prosper Utseya said in hushed tones. He had done his part with another parsimonious spell and some bright captaincy that frustrated the likes of Dwayne Bravo, and admitted that leading the side was a "big challenge" for someone "still learning".

The awkward questions about the politics back home will continue to assail them, but these blameless young men have done nothing to make their countrymen feel any shame. On the contrary, performances like Monday's may be small rays of light for a nation looking on darkness.

For West Indies though, the sun is shining out of a blue sky. Despite a sloppy performance, they were never really in danger of losing the game, and each batsman from the top six got some time in the middle. Shivnarine Chanderpaul's second turtle-like crawl might have creased the odd brow, but such is the nature of his batting that he might easily come out and slam a 70-ball century against the Australians in Antigua.



Chris Gayle was the only problem for Tawanda Mupariwa during an impressive return © AFP

The new-ball pairing was again potent, though Jerome Taylor's seven wides were a minor irritant. "We didn't bowl as well as we had against Pakistan," King said. "The wides are a concern. We should have kept them down to 150 or 170."

He refused to be critical of Lara's captaincy when asked whether 20 overs from the slow men had been a touch excessive, given that the impressive Daren Powell delivered only six. "It was nice to bowl our spinners," he said. "They need some time as well. It's a hard juggling act."

Three more days of training and relaxation now await West Indies, but King was certain that the guard wouldn't drop against Ireland. Group D was supposed to be one of the easiest to predict, but the two lesser lights have more than held their own, with Ireland illuminating the early stages of the tournament. "Sometimes the environment and the conditions can aid sides," King said, perhaps referring to the well-grassed pitch that Ireland bowled on against Pakistan. "But both Ireland and Zimbabwe have played good cricket. We'll treat the Ireland game like a Super Eight game."

If a demoralised Pakistan team can summon up a concerted effort in memory of their departed coach, the West Indies-Ireland game will indeed be a winner-takes-all affair. But should the little Davids from Zimbabwe fell one of the game's giants, this already intriguing group may yet have a fascinating finale.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo