Zimbabwe remain in contention for a place in the World Cup Super Sixes after they overcame a courageous Dutch team by 99 runs in Bulawayo. Favourites before the start, Zimbabwe put the game beyond the reach of the Netherlands by posting 301 from their 50 overs after they were put in.
The weather in Bulawayo had not been very good over the previous few days, but the morning of the match between Zimbabwe and the Netherlands dawned hot and sunny.
There was always the chance of rain later on, though, and for that reason Zimbabwean captain Heath Streak would have preferred to bowl had he won the toss. Roland Lefebvre called correctly, though, and he chose to bat on a good, if somewhat slow, batting pitch. Grant Flower was unavailable for Zimbabwe, rested as his injured finger was still troubling him.
Craig Wishart opened the Zimbabwe batting with Mark Vermeulen, restored to the team in the absence of Grant Flower. He sought to dominate from the start, driving Edgar Schiferli to the cover boundary in the first over and would have secured another had a straight drive not hit the stumps at the bowler's end.
He drove Roland Lefebvre for two boundaries off successive balls and so assured did he appear that a sequel to his 172 not out against Namibia looked a possibility. However he fell for 21 off 22 balls, superbly caught off a thick edge by wicket-keeper Jeroen Smits, courageously standing to the stumps to Lefebvre, and a superb cameo came to an abrupt end.
Andy Flower began slowly, and uncharacteristically missed a few runs off deliveries that would normally be meat and drink to him. He offered a hard high chance to slip, which was missed, when on 4; he promptly celebrated with two off-side boundaries and a leg-glance for four in the same over from Tim de Leede.
The Dutch bowling was quite accurate but without the threat posed by the top international attacks that Zimbabwean batsmen have had to face. They managed to bowl 20 overs in the 70 minutes before drinks.
Opener Mark Vermeulen was again visibly nervous to start with, but slowly found the confidence to play some of his booming drives. He was just beginning to dominate when he chose the wrong ball to cut from Feiko Kloppenburg and dragged the ball on to his stumps; out for 27, and Zimbabwe were 82 for two.
Guy Whittall has not been in good form recently, but he came in at number four with obvious determination to put things right, and to do so with positive strokeplay. He quickly ran to 24 at a run a ball, pulling and driving powerfully, including a straight six off Jacob-Jan Esmeijer.
Flower, working the ball around the field in contrast to Whittall's more flamboyant strokeplay, reached his fifty off 55 balls. Almost immediately afterwards, Whittall's promising innings was cut short at 30 by a brilliant diving catch at deep midwicket by Bas Zuiderent as he pulled Kloppenburg.
At times, though, the Dutch ground fielding was disappointing, with several errors allowing the Zimbabweans extra runs. But, apart from their early drop of Flower, their catching was better, as Flower found to his cost, when on 71 he sliced a ball into the gully where Esmeijer took a smart catch. Zimbabwe were now 165 for four in the 35th over.
This was not necessarily a major handicap for Zimbabwe, as it brought the aggressive Andy Blignaut to the wicket. After a relatively quiet start, he began to unleash his full power on the hapless Dutch bowlers, pulling and driving fiercely. His fifty came off 32 balls, but the Dutch adopted the policy of bowling straight to deep-set fields and cleverly had him caught on the leg side for 58. In the 45th over, Zimbabwe were 245 for five.
Streak was soon hitting powerfully, but lost Ebrahim for 32, swinging across the line to be bowled by de Leede. Doug Marillier (1) was trapped lbw, swinging across a straight full toss from Lefebvre, but with Tatenda Taibu as his partner Streak hammered 44 off 22 balls and took Zimbabwe past 300 before falling to a catch in the deep off the final ball of the innings.
Kloppenburg and Schiferli, the Netherlands' opening pair for this match, have not enjoyed much success with the bat during this World Cup tournament, but they came out determined to give it a go in pursuit of their unlikely target of 302.
Their most productive strokes were high hits over the infield, which brought them several boundaries during the first few overs. Andy Flower failed to sight a low chance at slip, and the Dutch approach seemed to take Zimbabwe unawares. Finally Streak broke through with a yorker to hit Schiferli's leg stump after he had scored 22 from 27 balls. The opening pair had put on 41 together, the Netherlands' best start of the tournament.
This put an immediate brake on the scoring, and Kloppenburg (18), his rhythm broken, holed out to mid-off in a half-hearted attempt to hit Douglas Hondo over the field. Hondo bowled a fine spell and the batsmen found it difficult to get him away.
Daan van Bunge joined Ben Zuiderent and both played in more orthodox fashion than their openers, van Bunge hitting two stylish boundaries and Zuiderent lofting Brian Murphy for a huge six. But in the next over they attempted a rash single and Zuiderent was run out for 15, reducing Netherlands to 80 for three.
Worse was to follow, as Netherlands's top batsman Tim de Leede, who has had a disappointing tournament so far, missed a well-flighted full toss from Murphy that hit him on the foot and was adjudged lbw for 1. Luuk van Troost came in and immediately hit a four and a six as Netherlands made a final desperate bid to come back into the match.
A bright partnership followed that had the Zimbabweans somewhat troubled, until van Troost (26) finally drove a low catch off Murphy that was well picked up by Hondo at deep mid-on. Van Bunge (37) soon followed, beaten and trapped lbw by Whittall, and Netherlands were on the ropes at 128 for six off 32 overs.
With the rain keeping away and the crowd growing, Henk Mol and Lefebvre at least decided to go down fighting hard. Lefebvre scored 30 off 23 balls in a stand of 42, and Mol 22; the tail did their part and the Netherlands were able to pass 200 for the first time in the tournament. Brian Murphy, with three for 45, returned the best figures.