Muzarabani holds nerve to give Zimbabwe thrilling tie
With one to defend off the last over, the seamer started with a wide but then had Scotland's No. 11 Brad Wheal caught behind with his next delivery to spark wild celebrations
Zimbabwe 210 (Ervine 57, Sharif 5-33, Leask 4-37) tied with Scotland 210 ( Berrington 47, Cremer 3-21, Chisoro 3-42)
Zimbabwe and Scotland battled to a tie in a thrilling match at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo. Both teams were already assured of a place in the Super Six stage ahead of this encounter, but there was no let up in intensity, nor in the interest of the fans, who once again turned out in big numbers and were treated to a nail-biting finish.
Scotland seemed to be cruising in pursuit of 211 during Richie Berrington and George Munsey's 76-run fifth wicket stand, but Berrington's dismissal for 47 gave Zimbabwe the chance they needed, and in a pressure-cooker atmosphere they chipped away to reduce Scotland to 171 for 8. No. 10 Mark Watt's brave hitting took Scotland to the brink, but when he fell in the penultimate over, the match turned again. Yet more drama was to follow, as a Blessing Muzarabani yorker tailed wide down the leg side wide to bring the teams level with six deliveries still to be bowled. Pulling his length right back, Muzarabani then had Brad Wheal caught behind with his next delivery to spark wild celebrations.
Zimbabwe's great escape brought an end to a topsy-turvy day in which both teams traded blows and the bowlers dictated the path of the match. After Zimbabwe opted to bat, Safyaan Sharif starred for Scotland with the ball, recording his maiden ODI five-wicket haul, while Michael Leask's offspin brought a career-best 4 for 37.
Brendan Taylor and Craig Ervine were the only Zimbabwean batsmen able to make an impact, and their dismissals proved timely for Scotland. Zimbabwe were rolling along at almost five-and-a-half runs an over when Taylor played on for 44, and Ervine's wicket for 57 in the 44th over meant Zimbabwe had no set top-order batsmen left to take on the bowling at the death.
Between times, Sharif's probing spells and Leask's consistency meant the rest of Zimbabwe's batsmen were only able to put together one partnership worth more than fifty - between Taylor and Solomon Mire for the third wicket. Sharif's first over of the match went for 16 as Cephas Zhuwao started in blistering fashion, but with his next seven overs and four deliveries he collected 5 for 17, including a maiden.
Sharif put his yorker to particularly good effect. With it, he removed Hamilton Masakadza leg before just as he was starting to hit his stride. Later in the innings, once again it was a yorker that beat Cremer for pace and pinged him on the toe in front of his stumps as Zimbabwe slipped to 187 for 7. Finally, it was another very full delivery that shattered Blessing Muzarabani's stumps to bring Zimbabwe's innings to a close in the 47th over.
But the yorker wasn't Sharif's only trick, and he was also backed up by some sharp fielding. Zimbabwe were tottering at 152 for 5 when he removed Sean Williams to put Scotland firmly in control. It was a classic set-up for the left-hander, Sharif angling the ball in and then moving it away to take the outer half. Calum MacLeod was perfectly positioned, close in at gully, to take the catch.
At the other end, Sharif received excellent support from Scotland's spinners. Scotland used four slow bowlers, who bowled 29 overs for 139 runs, with Leask striking while, at different points, Mark Watt and Tom Sole helped Scotland to keep control of the game.
Zimbabwe also relied heavily on spin, and left-arm spinner Tendai Chisoro - picked ahead of seamer Kyle Jarvis for this match - opened the bowling from the Airport End. He opened the door for Zimbabwe with the early dismissal of Matthew Cross, who sliced under a drive to be caught by Williams at cover point.
Chisoro also had Sole caught behind in his opening spell, but Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer bruised his figures - and those of Muzarabani, as Scotland raced past fifty in the Powerplay. Graeme Cremer brought himself on in the 12th over to turn the match once again, Coetzer playing too early at a legbreak to be caught and bowled for 39. Cremer returned later in the innings, bowling from the opposite end, to break the partnership between Berrington and Munsey and renew the pressure on Scotland.
Each one of Zimbabwe's bowlers contributed something, with Chatara, Williams and Raza also taking a wicket apiece. Muzarabani seemed the only weak link, having been targeted by Coetzer early on and Leask at the death as Scotland's no. 8 threatened to take the game away with a run-a ball 28 not out. But he, too, took a wicket, and in the end it was the one that mattered, ensuring Zimbabwe and Scotland would each take three points through to the Super Sixes.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town