Zimbabwe edge low-scoring thriller
Zimbabwe 206 for 8 (Taibu 62, Chigumbura 41, Dockrell 3-27) beat Ireland 200 (Wilson 69, White 47, Rainsford 4-23) by two wickets
Ed Rainsford was Zimbabwe's hero as they squeaked home with a last-ball, two-wicket win in the first one-day international at Harare Sports Club. Chasing 201, the home side needed six runs from the final over and managed to draw level with some frantic running before Rainsford clubbed the last ball from Kevin O'Brien - a full toss - over long leg for six to seal the match. Rainsford had also come to the fore with the ball, nipping out three top-order wickets and returning to take a fourth as Ireland were bowled out in the 48th over, and was deservedly named Man of the Match for his efforts.
Ireland were undoubtedly 30 to 40 runs short after being put in by home captain Elton Chigumbura, but they rallied with the ball and the Zimbabwean batsmen were on the defensive from the moment Hamilton Masakadza was nipped out first ball by O'Brien. Tatenda Taibu's 15th ODI half-century kept Zimbabwe on course, but when he was dismissed by Trent Johnston for 62 the momentum swung back to Ireland .
When Charles Coventry was run out in the 43rd over Zimbabwe still needed 48, with Chigumbura the last recognised batsman at the crease. He responded with a calm knock under pressure, brushing off the loss of Prosper Utseya with a straight six - the first of the innings - in the 48th over to reduce the runs still required to under 20. But when he slapped a full-toss from Trent Johnston straight to John Mooney at long-on one over later Ireland were back on top, as Graeme Cremer was joined at the crease by Rainsford with only Chris Mpofu still to come.
Either batsman could have been run out off the last ball of the 49th over, but Will Porterfield's throw was wide and amid further frenzied running in the last six balls there was a moment of controversy.
The Irish were convinced a diving Rainsford had been caught short of his ground when Niall O'Brien whipped the bails off as the batsmen pushed for a tight second run from the penultimate ball. But umpire Amiesh Saheba ruled Rainsford safe, and with the scores level a repeat of the two sides' tied encounter at the 2007 World Cup was a distinct possibility. But Rainsford responded to the pressure with the first international six of his career to seal Zimbabwe's win in the first of a three-match one-day series.
Rainsford had also played a leading role in the field, taking a career-best 4 for 23 as Ireland were dismissed with 15 balls still remaining in their innings. He was on a hat-trick in his first over when Porterfield and the elder O'Brien were removed in consecutive balls, and though Niall's younger brother Kevin survived his first ball Rainsford and his new-ball partner, Mpofu, kept up the pressure and Ireland's top four had been sent back before the end of the 10th over.
Andrew White and Gary Wilson averted disaster with a 115-run stand for the fifth wicket before both were removed by legspinner Graeme Cremer to stall Ireland's charge at the end of their innings. Mooney and Johnston swung merrily, but when Zimbabwe's opening pair returned the lower order folded quickly and Masakadza then closed the innings when he had George Dockrell caught by Coventry.
To their credit, Ireland fought back well in the field and the 18-year-old Dockrell put Zimbabwe under real pressure with 3 for 27 in 10 overs of guileful left-arm spin. In the event, Zimbabwe had just enough in the tank to squeeze past the visitors, and though they will take an important 1-0 lead in the series the signs suggest that the next two games should be closely-fought encounters.