Australia will face West Indies in next week's Carlton Series finals after the latter successfully defended a modest total against Zimbabwe here at the WACA Ground in Perth tonight.
Set a target of 179 runs for victory, Zimbabwe was on the back foot after just five balls - courtesy of Nixon McLean - and was eventually removed for just 134 within forty-three overs. Captain Heath Streak made a valiant unbeaten 33 but ultimately ran out of partners.
Nixon McLeanPhoto CricInfo
McLean (3/21 from nine overs) struck thrice within the first seven overs, removing Alistair Campbell (1), Stuart Carlisle (5) and Andy Flower (4) to leave Zimbabwe at 3/20 - a position from which it never recovered.
But, despite McLean's quick strikes and a graceful innings from Brian Lara (83*) - as well as Zimbabwe's production of a record-equalling five run outs in the field - the match will probably not be remembered for much in the way of high-quality cricket.
West Indian captain Jimmy Adams underlined this by stating that his charges needed to "sharpen their game" if they were to seriously challenge Australia in the finals series, which starts in Sydney next Wednesday.
Jimmy AdamsPhoto CricInfo
"Anything is possible," he nonetheless said, adding the West Indians were under no illusions as to the quality of said opposition.
Adams remarked that he was very happy to escape with the win over Zimbabwe and to secure the consequent finals spot given that the team's score was about fifty runs short of what they had expected.
"We showed a lot of guts this evening, defending what I thought was a modest total," Adams said. "I was pleased with all the bowlers (not just McLean) to be honest."
Meanwhile Zimbabwean captain Streak said that, with a finals spot up for grabs, his side could not put all aspects of the game together - despite bowling and fielding impressively.
"We just couldn't go out and do it with the bat," he said.
The game began in bizarre circumstances when West Indies opener Sherwin Campbell, brought back into the side in place of the injured Marlon Black (shoulder), was run out in the fifth over while attempting to run a single.
Campbell set off from the non striker's end only to run smack bang into then-bowler Streak's large frame following through, the batsman coming to a complete halt just over halfway down the pitch before his bails were removed.
The umpires later confirmed that the collision was accidental, adding that when no appeal was forthcoming they asked Streak whether he would like to pose the question. Streak said 'yes' and Campbell (0) was sent on his way, the first of a spate of run out victims that robbed Lara of some much-needed support.
Streak (0/20 from nine overs) said he had "no intention" of obstructing Campbell.
"He (Campbell) bumped into me and stopped," the Zimbabwe captain said. "We've had incidents where the shoe's been on the other foot."
Campbell's departure was the first of a number of early setbacks for West Indies, others of which came when Marlon Samuels (10) and Daren Ganga (22) made their own exits.
From the discomforting scoreline of 3/43, Ricardo Powell (37) and Lara then combined to plunder a quickfire half century stand which headed West Indies past the century mark and accelerated an until-then dormant scoring rate.
It was a measure of their centrality to the cause that, when Powell offered slip fieldsman Alistair Campbell his second catch of the innings, it triggered a batting collapse. Three consecutive run outs followed - Adams (8), Ridley Jacobs (9) and Laurie Williams (0) all departing needlessly. The innings - and Lara's century hopes - were eventually terminated when the last three wickets fell for just seven runs, Dirk Viljoen (2/31 from 6.2 overs) and Mluleli Nkala (2/34 off eight) the bowling catalysts.
Zimbabwe's chase was on shaky ground from as early as the first over, when McLean found the edge of the bat of Campbell (1) and handed wicketkeeper Jacobs a difficult one-handed diving catch to his left.
The paceman then struck in his third and fourth overs to produce another two wickets, Carlisle (5) snared by second slip Sherwin Campbell and Flower (4) gloved by Jacobs.
From there, it was pretty much all downhill for Zimbabwe, the only respite coming in the form of a brisk forty run partnership between Streak and Viljoen (29).
When Viljoen top edged a third catch to Jacobs - this time from the bowling of Samuels (3/25 off 7.3 overs) - the writing was on the wall. Samuels duly obliged by capturing another two wickets to help wrap up the victory.
"I knew, when Dirk went out, it was going to be difficult," Streak said afterwards.
After being handed the man-of-the-match award for his crucial knock, Lara said next week's games gave the Windies the chance to end their rollercoaster Australian tour on a high note.
"If we can get our game together, we can give them a fight," he said.
Lara stated that, while nothing seemed unreasonable for Australia at present, West Indies' play was still progressing - as evident in the high level of confusion between batsmen when running between wickets. He added that, while Ganga's run out was a bad call on his behalf, the last three were soft dismissals that were not of his making.
The five run out dismissals equalled the one-day international record for the number of run outs in an innings, most recently set in a clash between India and New Zealand during the 1998-99 season.
Meanwhile, Streak said that Sunday's game at the WACA against Australia, now meaningless to the Series standings, was another chance for Zimbabwe to show its mettle before the squad returns home.
"We have to show our presence out there and not sit back," he lamented, adding that Zimbabwe needed to be less reliant on its experienced players.