If the World Cup was played in a 40-over format, Zimbabwe could have won all their matches so far. At that stage of the game, Zimbabwe have been ahead all three times.

In Hamilton, Zimbabwe had South Africa 193 for 4 after 40 overs and were 234 for 5 in the reply themselves. In Nelson, they had UAE were 204 for 4 after 40 overs and had reached 222 for 5, in a contest they went on to win anyway. And in Canberra, West Indies were 220 for 1, Zimbabwe 262 for 8.

So what goes wrong? "We have to improve how we are bowling at the death. It has cost us," Elton Chigumbura, Zimbabwe's captain said. "If we had bowled well in almost all the games, we would have chased around 300 or just under. It's a matter of polishing up one department. We have to go and work hard on our last 15 overs."

Tinashe Panyangara and Tendai Chatara, Zimbabwe's two main seamers, are both regularly used in the last few overs, which seems like a good enough plan. The pair keep things tight upfront with decent lines and lengths, but later on they lose those. Panyangara appears to have become a target for settled batsmen, who treat him with circumspection in the first few overs but allow themselves to free the arms later on, while Chatara's search for the yorker is ongoing. For now, he has discovered only the full toss.

Zimbabwe's only other options are spin - which does not seem to work either - or for Chigumbura to absorb the responsibility himself and take on the job. Chigumbura is a mature captain, who uses his bowlers as cleverly as one can with a limited attack, and is severe in rotating them as soon as it seems things are running away from them. That extends even to himself. When he can see he is being hit too much, Chigumbura takes himself off. Now, he has learnt to keep himself on but bowl better. In doing that, he may be able to offer another option at the end, just as he has done with the bat in the past.

Although Chigumbura has yet to showcase his big-hitting skills in this tournament, the performance of the batting line-up overall has been a pleasing aspect for Zimbabwe. They are known as vulnerable chasers, but have put up a fight in every game and contributions throughout the order have kept them in games. "Its a good positive for the team that we are batting well. Before, our batting used to let us down but we have done better," Chigumbura said.

Better but not quite their best. None of the Zimbabwean batsmen have gone on to three figures, although the big guns - Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams, Craig Ervine and Brendan Taylor - have threatened to. The top two still needs to solidify, and they need to get into the habit of posting big partnerships. Chigumbura is hopeful they are getting there.

"We feel like we are going towards the right direction. We are playing positive cricket and we have to keep looking forward," he said.

Their next challenge is Pakistan, who are in disarray with the latest controversy surround chief selector Moin Khan's return to Pakistan. Zimbabwe are targeting victories over them and Ireland to keep their knockout hopes alive, and believe it is still an achievable aim of this trip. "If we can give away fewer runs, we have a good chance of getting a positive result against Pakistan," Chigumbura said. "The quarterfinals are still in our sights."

The trouble for Zimbabwe is that the improvements need to come fast but under Dav Whatmore, there has been progress in the area. Before this World Cup, he set them the challenge of staying in the game until the last five or ten overs. They have met that. Now, as the tournament develops, they will have to come up with ways of ensuring they are not completely blown away by the time the game reaches that stage.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent