Zimbabwe spinners shock West Indies
At the halfway stage, West Indies' winless streak looked almost certain to be snapped after astonishing spells from Sulieman Benn and Darren Sammy, but Zimbabwe's spirited army of spinners scripted a memorable fightback to help the visitors clinch a low-scoring scrap. On a day when Australia and New Zealand blasted the highest Twenty20 match aggregate during a nailbiter in Christchurch, Prosper Utseya's team won a game in which both sides made their lowest ever Twenty20 scores.
The Queen's Park Oval pitch helped the spinners and was a trifle two-paced, but not so treacherous as to merit a record eight ducks, and it merely highlighted the limitations of the batsmen on both sides.
What makes the ultimately comfortable victory even more special for Zimbabwe was that they were seemingly down and out after just 16 deliveries, losing three wickets to the left-arm spin of Benn with no score on board. A late onslaught from Elton Chigumbura after Zimbabwe had hobbled to 76 for 6 in 18 overs initially seemed inconsequential, but his 19-ball 34 turned out to be crucial in a match where batsmen couldn't pull off the big hits. West Indies' entire innings had only three fours and a six.
Utseya had mentioned at the toss that the spinners were one of the side's big strengths, and with the ball turning significantly, he used the slow bowlers for 18 overs. They proved hard to get away, but there was no signs of the turnaround that lay ahead when Adrian Barath and Shivnarine Chanderpaul negotiated the first five overs, steering West Indies to 20 for 0.
Then in a flurry of attempted big hits from their young batsmen, the home side imploded. Barath was bowled in the sixth over after being beaten by the turn when looking to clear the legside boundary, Andre Fletcher picked out the deep square leg fielder with a powerful sweep in the next over, Pollard was foxed by the flight and dip of Graeme Cremer in his first attempt at a signature lofted on-drive, and Darren Bravo picked up a golden duck after the ball kept low when he was trying a Hollywood pull shot. West Indies had stumbled to 32 for 4 and it was game on.
Still, with West Indies' serial rescuer Chanderpaul unbeaten, and given a reprieve when Cremer grassed a sitter at long-on in the 10th over, they were slight favourites. Offspinner Greg Lamb, who had earlier played a completely un-Twenty20 innings consuming 28 deliveries for 11 (all in singles), tipped the game Zimbabwe's way by trapping Chanderpaul lbw in the 12th over with a delivery that spun a lot less than the batsman expected.
From that stage, it was almost all Zimbabwe. Dwayne Smith threatened briefly and stand-in captain Denesh Ramdin battled till the end, but West Indies never really mounted a serious challenge.
Ramdin, and the smattering of spectators who turned up, would hardly have expected such a result after the surprise move to open the bowling with Benn paid off spectacularly, with the left-arm spinner crushing Zimbabwe's top-order to end with 4 for 6. That was the third best bowling analysis in Twenty20s, but only for a short while, as Sammy snared three wickets in the final over to finish with a five-for.
Benn struck off the match's first delivery, when Vusi Sibanda was bowled after failing to read the arm-ball. No. 3 Tatenda Taibu looked to sweep everything that Benn sent down, without much success, and fell lbw in the third over after failing to connect with a full delivery while attempting yet another sweep. Two balls later Stuart Matsikenyeri wafted at an unthreatening ball outside off and nicked to the keeper.
Zimbabwe were 0 for 3 but Benn was not done yet, getting Brendan Taylor in his next over. With nine deliveries still remaining in Benn's spell, the record for the best Twenty20 bowling - Umar Gul's masterful 5 for 6 against New Zealand in the ICC World Twenty20 last year - was under attack. Zimbabwe's batsmen, though, managed to defend their way through the rest of Benn's bowling.
After surviving the opening burst from Benn and Kemar Roach, who got the ball to jag about at pace, Hamilton Masakadza started to gain in confidence, and stitched together a partnership with Greg Lamb. Masakadza tried to accelerate by smashing a couple of boundaries but the 40-run stand was broken by one of the softest dismissals: Lamb inexplicably missed a slower one from Sammy - looking to play the ball and then almost offering no stroke, only to see the delivery go on to knock over middle stump.
Zimbabwe had their best phase of the innings after that, with Chigumbura looking comfortable at the crease from the outset. He and Masakadza added 21 in three overs before the opener was foxed by a slower offcutter from Sammy. Chigumbura then slammed 22 off an erratic Ravi Rampaul over to boost the target towards triple digits, before he became one of Sammy's three final-over victims.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo