Donald Tiripano makes for an unlikely, everyday cricketing hero. Well under six feet tall, he occasionally tops 130kph with the ball and just about holds his own the bat, without getting too bolshy. But against West Indies at Queens Sports Club on Saturday afternoon, he showed his mettle as a cricketer and became just the hero Zimbabwe needed. With six deliveries in the final over Tiripano sparked the unlikeliest of comebacks, taking three wickets and giving away just three runs to help Zimbabwe tie.
"To me, it was my dream," Tiripano said, holding back welling emotions. "I was talking to myself, saying. 'This is the chance I've been waiting for since I was a little kid'. I grew up playing cricket in the streets. I was just thinking about that. Thinking 'Just be positive. Nothing to fear. Just express yourself'. That positivity and that faith … I just thank God for this. It's great for me. It's something that many wish for in their lives, to save a match for their country. It's a blessing."
He had opened the bowling earlier, trapping Johnson Charles lbw with an inducker before the opener could really get going. His opening spell of 1 for 24 was useful, but not flashy - and certainly gave no indication of the heroics that would come later, when he was called upon by his captain Graeme Cremer to bowl the final over of this match, with just four runs to defend. With his second ball, he had the dangerous, World T20-winning Carlos Brathwaite caught at long on. With his third, he ran Ashley Nurse out by deflecting a firm drive from Jason Holder back onto the non-striker's stumps.
Suddenly, hope surged. After a leg bye, he might have had Jonathan Carter caught in the deep, but Chamu Chibhabha couldn't quite get to the chance despite a stupendous effort. The batsmen crossed, levelling the scores. It all came down to the final delivery, and when Tiripano beat Holder's drive with a full, wide slower ball and PJ Moor threw down the stumps, the Zimbabweans unleashed their unrestrained joy. This wasn't a win, but it sure felt like one.
"[Cremer] just said 'Back yourself, and do what you've been doing before'," Tiripano explained after the breathless finish to the game. "So I just backed myself to bowl that slower ball, that I usually know is difficult to hit. Keep it simple. I didn't want to use too many variations, just that slower ball because there was assistance from the wicket. So I didn't have to bowl yorkers or anything. Just use the wicket to help me.
"I tried to bowl that last ball fuller, because there wasn't much pace in the wicket so it would be difficult to hit over the top. I bowled it fuller, and he didn't hit it. I'm just so happy we managed to pull out a tie, out of nothing."
Then there was his batting. Tiripano was the only member of Zimbabwe's bottom seven to reach double figures, and he took them past 250 and to their highest ODI score this year with a clean six (his first in ODIs) off Shannon Gabriel, the quickest bowler in this tri-series. "I knew before he bowled that the ball would be fuller, because he'd bowled a few back-of-a-length deliveries," Tiripano explained with nonchalance. "So I just anticipated before the ball was bowled. I was right there to hit it."
Tiripano's resistance was emblematic of the spirit shown by the Zimbabwean side today, which left coach Heath Streak a very proud man. "I'm proud of the fact that they never gave up," Streak said. "They managed to claw it back. It was excellent. Those last seven or eight overs were brilliant. The guys took it to the wire. Cricket is funny. If you take it into the last over, it's amazing what can happen with that pressure.
"Probably in the last three overs, I started thinking: 'We can do this'," Streak added. "We got a couple of wickets, and I knew Brathwaite and the skipper Holder can hit a long ball, so I was always worried about the damage they can do. But the wicket was pretty tough. It was gripping and I thought Mpofu and Williams bowled really well. And then obviously Donald bowled that last over really well under pressure. He bowled some superb balls. I'm very proud of how they fought."
Yet Streak was also realistic about the areas in which Zimbabwe fell short today. They missed three chances off centurion Shai Hope's bat, and their fumbles in the field dissipated the pressure being built up on the batsmen.
"We know that we're better than what we showed in the field," Streak said. "That's the only disappointment. We dropped opportunities and we had a lot of fumbles. We know we're better than that. It's something I know the guys are going to have to work on, getting those fielding standards up, but the fact that we were able to tie and not have had our best day in the field is probably a good omen for us, because we know we've still got room for improvement.
"Despite today's tie, we've still got a lot of work to do to get ourselves to the final," Streak added. "Monday (against Sri Lanka) is an important game for us. We've just to make sure we come out with that same positivity. We have a big game on Monday, but we've got to take it one over at a time, one ball at a time."