Sikandar Raza and spinners subdue Ireland
Zimbabwe 211 for 9 (Raza 69*, Murtagh 3-36, McBrine 2-42) beat Ireland 104 (Stirling 41, Chisoro 3-22, Cremer 3-18) by 107 runs
Sikandar Raza has become Zimbabwe's MVP in recent years: he is their middle-order enforcer, provides insurance with the ball, and even pulls off electric catches in the field. On Friday, Raza enhanced his reputation as Zimbabwe's MVP with a punchy 69 not out on a slower-than-usual Harare pitch where every other batsman struggled. His 13th ODI half-century - and 12th in the last three years - rallied Zimbabwe from 139 for 7 to 211 for 9. The spinners, led by Tendai Chisoro, then made the score look bigger and ensured the hosts maintained their unbeaten run in the World Cup qualifier.
On a dry Harare surface, Ireland had only one specialist spinner in Andy McBrine, who returned 2 for 42. In contrast, Zimbabwe had two frontline spinners in Chisoro and captain Graeme Cremer in addition to Raza's offbreaks and Sean Williams' left-arm spin. Chisoro, who had taken the new ball, alone struck three times in the first 12 overs. He had captain William Porterfield miscuing a quick fizzer to short midwicket. The left-arm spinner proceeded to remove Ed Joyce and Niall O'Brien before Cremer and Williams took care of the middle order and the tail.
Opener Paul Stirling stood alone for Ireland, making 41 off 70 balls, before falling to a muddled mix-up, which encapsulated their batting effort. Ireland were ultimately rolled over for 104 in 34.2 overs.
Earlier, Raza had displayed great clarity: he manipulated the fields expertly in the middle overs before providing a finishing kick. However, Raza endured a painful start to his innings after coming in to bat in the 21st over with the score on 87 for 5. Boyd Rankin - six feet, seven inches tall - found extra bounce from a back of a length and struck him on the right glove. Raza shook it off and settled into his shot-making stride when he hit seamer Barry McCarthy for back-to-back boundaries in the 30th over. He first tugged a short ball over midwicket for a six before jabbing an outside edge for four. At the other end, Chisoro defended competently and belted three fours in a 42-run partnership for the eighth wicket - the highest of the match.
Once Murtagh removed Chisoro and Kyle Jarvis in the 45th and 47th overs, Raza farmed the strike and ensured that Zimbabwe would not only bat out their full quota but also post a score above 200. He raised his fifty off 73 deliveries. Then he went on to hit two sixes and a four off the last eight balls of the innings, the pick of them a flat-batted smash over long-on. Raza received a rousing reception from a passionate Harare crowd while Ireland were left with a teasing thought: what might have been.
Zimbabwe's innings had begun in a mood of revelry too. Opener Cephas Zhuwao had Harare's Castle Corner buzzing with a brace of sixes off Tim Murtagh, including one that soared over midwicket, roughly in the direction of the rugby ground.
McCarthy then understood the need of the hour better and went straight to plan B: knuckle balls. Taking the pace off worked almost immediately, although it was the offcutter which had Zhuwao holing out to long-on for 20 off 18 balls. Solomon Mire, the other opener, ran past a non-turning offbreak from McBrine to be stumped in emphatic fashion. Five balls later, Rankin's extra bounce forced Hamilton Masakadza to nick behind and Zimbabwe were 50 for 3 in 9.4 overs.
Taylor showed promise when he forayed down the track and nonchalantly launched McBrine over his head and out of the attack. The offspinner would, however, return and strike in the first over of his second spell to trap Taylor lbw for 25 (although the ball did seem as if it would miss leg stump).
Raza watched Williams, Craig Ervine - a tight run-out call from TV umpire Michael Gough - and Cremer fall around him, but he held the innings together brilliantly along with the tail to have the crowd grooving to his tunes. Raza had a big say in the final celebrations, too, setting off on a lap of honour and taking a selfie with the crowd.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo