It's not often that a bowler with an economy rate of 12 is a team's hero. Shingirai Masakadza was, though, and that too on his debut, when he secured Zimbabwe their first ODI win in the Caribbean by conceding only one run in the final three deliveries of a game that the visitors somehow contrived to convert into a close one after being in control for large parts.
For much of the home side's batting, it was death by spin again, just as in their defeat in Sunday's Twenty20. A solid Zimbabwe batting effort, led by a watchful Vusi Sibanda and an innovative Tatenda Taibu, was backed up by their slow-bowling armada on a sluggish track in Providence to extend West Indies' winless streak.
Zimbabwe seemed to have the match in hand when their four frontline spinners bowled out by the 46th over, leaving West Indies needing 45 off the final four, with five wickets down and the Powerplay used up. Five tight deliveries from Elton Chigumbura made it an even tougher 41 off 19, before a big no-ball was slammed for a straight six by Shivanrine Chanderpaul and two more taken off the free-hit.
Three overs to go, two of which Zimbabwe's debutant bowler had to send down. This, after Masakadza's first over in ODIs had been lashed for 14 runs. After Chanderpaul hopped across the stumps and got down on one knee to paddle an outside off ball over short fine leg for four, on his way to ten runs off the first four balls, the target became a gettable 22 off 14. Masakadza eased the Zimbabwe nerves by getting Chanderpaul to hole out to long-off next ball, and finished off the over with a dot ball.
Again, the match looked to be a lock for Zimbabwe when Chigumbura send down five deliveries for three runs and removed Denesh Ramdin in the penultimate over, but Dwayne Smith slugged a four off the last ball to make it 15 off the final over, to be bowled by Masakadza.
There were still twists to come. First, Nikita Miller whittled down the target to five off four with a swipe over midwicket for six followed by a streaky four to third man. Masakadza couldn't have asked for a tougher initiation to top-flight cricket. A single brought Smith on strike, before Masakadza bowled him and then had Sulieman Benn dismissed by an under-pressure, low catch from Greame Cremer running in from deep midwicket. Four required off the final ball; Masakadza coolly served up perhaps the best ball of his spell, a yorker that could only be dug out to mid-on to spark off massive Zimbabwean celebrations.
It was his brother, Hamilton, who kicked off an impressive day for Zimbabwe with a brisk 41 in a slow-and-steady opening stand of 67 with Sibanda. Despite his hitting, the run-rate was dawdling at about three an over because of a struggling Sibanda, who consumed 162 deliveries for his 95, the longest sub-100 innings since Aamer Sohail's 167-ball 87 in 1993.
It hardly looked like Sibanda would survive so long during his uncertain start to the innings, fresh from a golden duck on Sunday. He had a fortunate edge over slips for four early on, and the umpire didn't spot him glove a delivery to the keeper in the 17th over from Kieron Pollard. Between the chances, he barely managed to get the ball away, scoring mainly in singles.
It was the arrival of Taibu that energised the Zimbabwe batting, with his assortment of sweeps and reverse-sweeps taking him to a quick half-century, and putting on a century stand with the resolute Sibanda. That took the visitors to an imposing 167 for 1 in 37 overs, and despite the exit of Taibu, Sibanda and the big-hitting Chigumbura launched an assault that yielded 80 off the final ten overs to push Zimbabwe past 250.
The West Indies chase got off to a promising start: the returning captain, Chris Gayle, and Adrian Barath following the template set by the Zimbabwean openers - Gayle played the Hamilton Masakadza role, scoring the bulk of the runs, and Barath laid down anchor like Sibanda - to progress to 96 for 0 after 22 against some accurate Zimbabwe spin.
With Gayle confidently playing the reverse-sweep, a shot he rarely uses, to bring up his half-century, West Indies were well placed, but offspinner Greg Lamb, the best of the Zimbabwe bowlers, trapped him lbw soon after, when he played down the wrong line. Barath also fell not long after reaching his half-century, and a couple of run-outs placed the responsibility on Chanderpaul and Pollard.
With Chanderpaul unable to find the boundaries early on - he took 48 balls before hitting his first - and Pollard hardly at ease, the asking-rate spiralled above eight by the 41st over. Pollard holed out to mid-on in the 43rd, the first of the Powerplay overs, and though Chanderpaul battled hard, he couldn't pull it off and neither could the West Indies lower-order.