Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town
United Arab Emirates 235 for 7 (Shahzad 59, Raza 3-41, Chatara 2-49) beat Zimbabwe 226 for 7 (Williams 80, Moor 39, Naveed 3-40, Mustafa 2-56) by three runs (D/L method)
Zimbabwe all but crashed out of the running for a spot at the 2019 World Cup with a narrow three-run defeat to United Arab Emirates in their final Super Six match at the Harare Sports Club. Chasing 230 in 40 overs in a rain-affected match, Zimbabwe went into the last over needing 15, but managed only 11. Their chase had been powered by Sean Williams' 80, but his dismissal in the 37th over left the lower order with too much to do, and UAE held their nerve to record their first victory over a Test nation.
Needing to score at 5.75 from the outset, with only 40 overs and the potential of further rain delays, this was a situation in which Zimbabwe might have welcomed Cephas Zhuwao's big hitting up front. But without him in the XI, Hamilton Masakadza and Solomon Mire opened the batting.
With the ball skidding on a little quicker on a surface juiced up by the shower, Mohammad Naveed's pace soon proved too much for Mire. Late on a pull, he spliced an easy catch to Shaiman Anwar at midwicket. Working up serious pace, Naveed then sent Masakadza's off stump cartwheeling with a delivery clocked at 140kph. Those wickets put a dent in Zimbabwe, but it seemed they were floored when Brendan Taylor played down the wrong line at a delivery from Ahmed Raza that rushed on with the arm, zipping between bat and pad to bowl him for 15. Zimbabwe were reeling against the ropes at 45 for 3 with their best batsman back in the dressing room and the asking rate now at 6.6 per over.
But while UAE's bowling attack packed a punch, they couldn't quite deliver the knockout blow. Williams and Peter Moor gritted their way through the new ball, a stiffness in their strokeplay that spoke volumes about the incredibly high stakes of this match. It wasn't until Williams started to connect his reverse sweeps that they began to settle. He collected boundaries off Raza and Mustafa, and then broke free with a remarkable upper cut off Amir Hayat in the 25th over. That shot took him into the 40s, and a quick single soon after brought up a vital fifty from 56 deliveries.
Immediately afterwards, however, Moor chipped a drive straight to Adnan Mufti in the covers to fall for 39. A 79-run partnership was broken, and the pressure increased once more. Needing at least a boundary an over, Raza and Williams scampered for every possible run, taking on the field, while Raza managed to puncture the leg-side boundary to keep the asking rate just about within check. Their fifty stand came up from only 36 deliveries, but the exertion began to tell on Williams, and cramps set in.
With Zimbabwe needing 53 from 36, Raza heaved mightily to place a flighted delivery from Mustafa on the roof above the players' dressing rooms, but then whipped a full-toss straight out to Shaiman Anwar at long leg. In an atmosphere of rising tension, Mustafa repeatedly warned the non-striking batsmen for backing up to far, threatening the Mankad but never actually tipping the bails off. When Williams collided with Hayat turning for a second run in the next over, words were exchanged and the umpire stepped in to cool things off. When Williams whipped a sweep over fine leg, but lapped the next ball to be caught, one-handed, by Hayat in that position, Mustafa bellowed a send-off.
Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer arrived at the crease in an atmosphere of almost unbearable tension, and in fading light Naveed rifled in a full delivery to bowl him first ball, and the home side slipped to 209 for 7. Craig Ervine and Kyle Jarvis swung gamely, and Ervine was on strike to the final ball with six needed. But Naveed held his nerve, restricting them to two runs to break Zimbabwean hearts.
UAE's innings had begun under rather clearer skies. Asked to bat by Zimbabwe on the same pitch as was used in the game between Scotland and West Indies on Wednesday, captain Rohan Mustafa signalled his intent early with a hack over cover for four. Ashfaq Ahmed was also unafraid to hit over the top early on, but after conceding two boundaries, Tendai Chatara had him caught behind, pushing flat-footed at one that left him off the track.
But while Jarvis' length and swing troubled both edges of the bat, Chatara struggled for any consistency and despite the early wicket his opening spell leaked 31 runs in four overs. He wasn't the only Zimbabwean to have an off day, and nerves may well have contributed to Zimbabwe's stiffness in the field.
Ghulam Shabber was gifted a life when an edge off his bat flew right between Taylor, keeping wicket once again, and Masakadza at first slip. He was also gifted extra runs, Chatara misreading the spin on the ball as it bounced towards him in the outfield, slipping wrong-footed, and giving away four. When his luck eventually ran out and he was bowled, missing a sweep at Raza, Rameez Shahzad continued to take the fight to Zimbabwe's bowlers.
Shahzad smashed an unbeaten 112 against West Indies earlier in this tournament, and in January he cracked 121 to help UAE chase down 300 against Scotland. Against Zimbabwe he showed that he hadn't lost any touch by getting off the mark with a towering six off Raza that landed on the roof of the three-storey building at the Golf Course End. Fifteen overs of drives, pulls and dabs later, he brought up a half-century off 51 balls with an adventurous ramp over point, and UAE were bossing the innings at 171 for 3 after 37 overs.
Zimbabwe's bowlers surged once again at the death, and the wicket of Shahzad in the 39th over slowed UAE's charge. Mohammad Usman and Shaiman Anwar holed out, and when Blessing Muzarabani removed Ahmed Raza in a wicket maiden in the 47th over, UAE had slipped to 211 for 7 with the rain on its way. There was just enough time for Naveed to blast 22 from 10 deliveries, boosting the score beyond Zimbabwe's reach and, ultimately, shattering their World Cup dreams.