Zimbabwe swept aside Ireland with a convincing 156-run thumping in the first ODI of the Kenya Tri-Series in Nairobi. In pursuit of a challenging 303, Ireland lost their first four wickets inside 14 overs - a position from which they could never mount a serious chase, despite an entertaining 38 from the in-form Kevin O'Brien.
It was an important win for Zimbabwe, especially since they were easily beaten by the might of Uganda yesterday. Today, they justified their Full Member status against one of the leading Associates. The question is: can they sustain their dominance over the entire tournament?
Elton Chigumbura led the attack with verve; surprisingly, his new-ball partner was Prosper Utseya, whose offspin and flighted deliveries frustrated Ireland. Niall O'Brien and Gary Wilson both fell to Chigumbura's short-of-a-length attack, and for all the Zimbabweans' admirable discipline, there was less on evidence by Ireland. This was no better exemplified than by William Porterfield's careless slap off Utseya.
At the halfway stage Ireland had tripped to 72 for 6, but there was a brief period of forlorn entertainment when Kevin O'Brien took three huge sixes off 20-year-old Timycen Maruma, each hammer blow clearing the long-on and long-off boundaries with ease. He lost his wicket attempting a fourth off Keith Dabengwa.
Ireland nearly survived all 50 overs, but struggled against Ray Price whose ten overs went for just seven runs - the most economical figures by any Zimbabwean in ODIs. Dabengwa mopped up with 3 for 17 from six tidy and controlled overs.
It was Zimbabwe's batsmen who set up the win, however. Hamilton Masakadza was again in terrific form, lacing 72 from 66 to form a solid opening partnership of 71 with Cephas Zhuwawo. Both Peter Connell and Boyd Rankin, one of Ireland's rising hopes, were treated with disdain; they bowled too short too often. Crucially, Zimbabwe never panicked or lost concentration in the usually sticky middle overs; Tatenda Taibu and Chamu Chibhabha grafted 102 in 21.1 overs of intelligent batting.
Chibhabha only hit two fours in his rhythmical 51, but rotated the strike intelligently with Taibu. However, he fell two balls after reaching a 67-ball fifty, beaten by the extra bounce and pace of Rankin. But Taibu was patient and resolute throughout, nudging singles and working the ball into the gaps behind square. Only occasionally did he choose the aerial route, petulantly slogging Kyle McCallan over midwicket before lifting Botha over the same region for another boundary.
They were boosted over 300 by Chigumbura's uncomplicated bashing . He scored 33 from just 19 balls - a tactic Ireland tried to replicate in their chase without success. The next match is between Ireland and Kenya on Saturday, before Kenya face Zimbabwe on Sunday.