Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
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Zimbabwe 291 for 2 (Ervine 121*, Williams 102*, Kami 1-30) beat Nepal 290 for 8 (Bhurtel 99, Sheikh 66, Ngarava 4-43) by eight wickets
An unbroken 164-run partnership between Craig Ervine and Sean Williams saw Zimbabwe canter to an eight-wicket victory against Nepal to open their World Cup Qualifier campaign. At a packed Harare Sports Club, Ervine played a captain's knock to ensure Nepal's 290 for 8 never looked overwhelming for his side, his fourth ODI hundred the highlight of a brilliant Zimbabwean batting performance. Williams went one better, scoring Zimbabwe's fastest-ever hundred to help the side wrap up the game with nearly six overs to spare.
Zimbabwe started brightly in their pursuit, with Joylord Gumbie taking advantage of the powerplay to strike early boundaries and get the side off to a punchy start. After Sompal Kami trapped him in front, Wesley Madhevere and Ervine continued in the same vein. Zimbabwe were particularly adept at rotating the strike, and quick to punish the loose deliveries. With Nepal's attack ill-equipped to threaten, especially on a surface as docile as this, the home side had the experience of knowing the game was theirs to lose.
That experience proved especially salient when Williams joined his fellow old hand Ervine at the crease. Madhevere had been done in by the short ball, but these two left-handers were perfectly equipped to handle Nepal's spin. Crucially, they went about neutering Sandeep Lamichhane from the very first over, getting on top of his variations and punishing him whenever he erred in line and length.
In the end, the only person discombobulated by Lamichhane's variety was the bowler himself as he struggled for rhythm. Zimbabwe ensured he registered his second-most expensive figures in ODI cricket, 10-0-77-0, and was wicketless just the third in his career.
Williams was instrumental in taking pressure off his captain, happy to take on the role of the aggressor. This reflected in the speed with which he brought up his 34th half-century, taking just 41 balls. By then, the asking rate had been tamed, brought down well below six. Soon after a caress through the covers brought up Ervine's hundred, and as cries of "captain" broke out from the Harare crowd, their leader saluted them back.
Ervine took 111 balls for his hundred, and Williams wouldn't be content with just a half-century either. He continued accelerating as Zimbabwe turned the chase into a formality, and the only obstacle to his century was that Zimbabwe were running out of runs to chase. But with five runs required, he slashed Gulshan Jha to the wide long-off boundary to level the scores. His hundred came in just 70 balls, and the Castle Corner was only too happy to get on its feet again.
Nepal had begun so much brighter than they ended, a sensational 171-run opening stand between Kushal Bhurtel and Aasif Sheikh providing the dream platform on a placid pitch to go and push ahead past 300. But when Bhurtel, whose stroke-making all day had been sublime, was cruelly cleaned up by Wellington Masakadza on 99, Nepal's day turned. Sheikh fell soon after, and Zimbabwe's fingerspinners sent them back into rebuilding mode.
There were cameos, especially from Kushal Malla and captain Rohit Paudel, but Richard Ngarava seared through the middle order with four wickets, and the innings began to peter out. The last five overs saw just 32 runs scored, and when the players went in for lunch, the sense was that Nepal had well and truly lost momentum.
In the end, with Williams and Ervine in that kind of form, none of it might have mattered after all. As the players indulged in a lap of honour to thank a crowd that had stayed back to celebrate, this day in Harare truly belonged to Zimbabwe.