Zimbabwe had already lost the game, they were already out of the tournament, and someone in blue was still running up and bowling to someone in red only because the red team had to bat out 20 overs or get bowled out. When Donald Tiripano poked Dawlat Zadran towards point and set off for a single, Zimbabwe required 89 to win from 21 balls.

It should have been a comfortable run, even with a direct hit at the bowler's end. But Tiripano's bat, though well past the crease at the point when the bails began flashing, was still a couple of centimeters in the air.

It was Zimbabwe's third-last dismissal of the World T20. It was close to being a replay of their first dismissal of the tournament: then, against Hong Kong on March 8, it was Hamilton Masakadza who had failed to ground his bat.

From Hamilton to Tiripano and all points in between, Zimbabwe's World T20 was a story of little errors and muddled execution of plans.

On the eve of this decisive contest against Afghanistan, Zimbabwe's batting consultant Marvan Atapattu had said the game would be won by the team that did not make mistakes. "We used to say [the team] who makes less mistakes, but we have now come to a stage where we say [the team that] does not make mistakes, because everybody seems to have mastered the game to a certain level."

Afghanistan were not perfect, by any means, but you only had to watch their new-ball bowling to know they were a side with clear plans, and the intensity and focus needed to execute their plans. There is no indisputably good ball in Twenty20 cricket, but not offering batsmen width is usually a good place to start. Dawlat Zadran and Hamid Hassan did not give Hamilton or Vusi Sibanda any width in their opening spells.

Only one boundary came in the first three overs - which came off a straight, good length ball hoicked over the leg side - and that is bound to create pressure on a team chasing 187. The pressure told on Hamilton, who swung across the line at another straight ball and missed.

The contrast with Zimbabwe's new-ball bowling couldn't have been greater. Mohammad Shahzad has fantastic hands and eyes, but even the very best hand-eye batsmen - Virender Sehwag, for instance - need room to work with. Zimbabwe's quick bowlers kept offering Shahzad room, and he carved and flat-batted and steered with abandon to pick up seven fours across Tendai Chatara and Donald Tiripano's first overs.

Hamilton said his fast bowlers had veered off their plan against Shahzad. "We were meant to bowl a little bit straighter to him," he said. "We gave him a little bit too much width today, which we don't normally do."

All the while, at the other end, Wellington Masakadza was showing Zimbabwe that their plan was sound. The left-arm spinner bowled flat, angled it in from wide of the crease, and mostly bowled non-turning balls that slid in and cramped Shahzad for room. Against Wellington, Shahzad scored only four runs from 11 balls.

Despite the assault from Shahzad - which launched Afghanistan to 49 for 0 in 4.4 overs - Zimbabwe remained in the contest by picking up four wickets in the space of 20 balls. Mohammad Nabi and Samiullah Shenwari would take the game away from them once again, putting on 98 for the fifth wicket at 9.18 runs an over, but not without a helping hand from the fielding team.

In two overs, Sikandar Raza sent down two leg-side wides, and the wicketkeeper Richmond Mutumbami allowed the second one past him for a couple of extra runs. In between, Mutumbami missed another take behind the stumps, only, this time, it was with Nabi yards down the pitch, having failed to pick Wellington's arm ball. Nabi was on 20 at that point, and he went on to make 52 off 32 balls, and lift Afghanistan to 186.

It wasn't the first time Zimbabwe had let a team off the hook in this tournament. Even in the wins over Hong Kong and Scotland, they failed to be sufficiently ruthless after bright starts with the ball, and ended up winning by far narrower margins - 14 runs and 11 runs - than they probably should have. In both those matches, their batting was beset by silly mistakes; there were four run-outs in those two games, with the captain Hamilton twice dismissed in that fashion.

Not once in their three matches were Zimbabwe at, or even near, their best.

"I think that's true," Hamilton said, when asked if he agreed with that assessment. "We also felt that we haven't played our best game just yet. We were sort of looking forward to do that today, but today was even worse than the other two games, so yeah, we're disappointed."

Zimbabwe exit the World T20 the way they entered it - as a collection of talented players who never quite seem to live up to their potential or perform as a unit. There is a sense of decline about them, and a sense that they aren't quite sure how to arrest this decline. They leave the tournament having lost yet again - for the fifth time in as many T20I meetings - to a side heading in exactly the opposite direction.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo