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March 19, 2014
Zimbabwe thought they'd sealed the deal, albeit fortuitously, when Sean Williams' inside edge skooted past Wesley Baressi for four. The scores were tied and there were three deliveries remaining. Surely it could not go wrong from there?
Williams missed the next ball but the scores were still tired and there were two deliveries remaining. Surely it could not go wrong from there?
Then Williams ran himself out trying to scramble a single to ensure it did not go wrong. The scores were tied and there was only one delivery remaining. It could easily go wrong from there.
Vusi Sibanda was under intense scrutiny. He was batting well outside of his regular opening berth, having being pushed all the way down to No. 6 because of the strategy on the day. He also didn't inspire much confidence. He only averages 15.28 in the format, an indictment for a batsman of his quality. Two of his last five T20 scores were in single fingers and when he did get going, he failed to push on. In the last match, he succumbed to the pull shot - the stroke that he tends to go back to when he feels cornered and that is often responsible for his undoing.
Against that backdrop, he had to face more pressure than has befallen him. It was not the pressure of building an innings but the pressure of ending one. At least someone one backed him to stand up to it.
"Vusi has been playing international cricket for 10 years; he is a very talented player," Brendan Taylor, Zimbabwe captain, said. "Obviously it was not a familiar position that he is used to and something new to him. But we always had faith in him and when the field's up, it does make it a little bit easier."
All Netherlands fielders were saving the single so Sibanda's only choice was to go over them. He sent Ahsan Malik's last ball further into the stands than anyone else had managed to in the match to remove Zimbabwean worries and keep them alive in the competition.
Sibanda gave fighting spirit a new image, one Taylor feels it could have done without, given what it did to his nerves. "We needed that win but we made it very difficult for ourselves," he said. "We shouldn't have finished in the last over."
Taylor felt the same about Zimbabwe's first match against Ireland. That was decided on the last ball as well and then, Taylor blamed his batsmen for not posting a sizeable enough score to defend. Then, a total of 180 on this pitch looked par, this time Taylor thought it had much less in it and felt responsibility lay with his fielders for not restricting Netherlands even further. "We leaked 15 or 20 runs and we should have restricted them to 120," he said. "We were really sloppy and we made it a lot more difficult than it should have been."
Although Zimbabwe did not drop any catches, they were lazy in protecting the boundary and on three occasions, lost the ball as it approached the rope. They were also beaten too often in the infield and sometimes, more times than Taylor was happy with, failed to pick up the ball cleanly when chasing. Taylor identified that as one of the areas they need to improve on before their last qualifier on Friday.
Despite letting Netherlands get away a bit, Zimbabwe never felt the chase was out of their grasp, even when the run-rate ballooned over nine. "We felt we needed wickets in hand," Taylor said. "Chasing 140 with a quick outfield on a pretty decent wicket to bat on, if you have got wickets in hand, you can always chase 10, 12 or even13 runs an over at the end." And if you are Sibanda you can even get six off the final ball.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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