Zimbabwe entered their final match in the first round of their inaugural triangular tournament knowing they had to beat West Indies handsomely, and then have India beat West Indies in Wednesday's match, to reach the final. But, in a fluctuating match where they almost overcame the severe disadvantage of losing the toss, they went down by five wickets in the final over.
It was another clear winter's morning in Bulawayo as Zimbabwe lost the toss once again and were put in to bat. They did have some much-needed good news as Heath Streak was fit to play again.
Zimbabwe again lost a quick wicket as Dion Ebrahim (1) fished outside the off stump to Cameron Cuffy, again bowling superbly, and was caught at the wicket. Stuart Carlisle announced his arrival at the crease with a sweetly timed four to square leg but was then caught at slip by Chris Gayle off Collymore without addition. At 9 for two, Zimbabwe once again had their backs to the wall and the suitability of winter cricket in Zimbabwe was being called into question. On the evidence so far, the pitches tend to be too sluggish and give an inordinate advantage to the side bowling first, more through unexpected swing in the cold morning air, perhaps moistened by dew, that later disappeared.
Alistair Campbell (17) looked good for a while, but then Cuffy struck again, having him caught at second slip, Gayle again. Craig Wishart, so often underestimated and neglected by the selectors, stood in the breach as he had on Wednesday, batting with fine discrimination and the occasional powerful drive or pull.
Wishart went to his fifty off 67 balls with a drive to the cover boundary and, with Cuffy having bowled out his ten overs for 30 runs and two wickets and the conditions yielding no further help to the bowling side, the West Indian attack suddenly began to look quite innocuous. Flower ran to his fifty with a reverse sweep to the boundary, and the pair added 126 before Wishart (71) uppercut Dillon to be caught at third man. Zimbabwe were 153 for four.
Guy Whittall came in and played his usual improvised strokes, the pair lofting the ball skillfully into the gaps and running like hares between the wickets. Whittall offered a couple of difficult chances that went down, while Flower played some superb shots, including two sixes into the crowd, but was caught on the long-on boundary off Dillon for 94, scored off 107 balls.
Zimbabwe finished with 255 for five (Whittall 39*, Andy Blignaut 12*), a remarkable recovery after such a dismal start. Their middle order had given them a good chance of victory after all; now it was up to their bowlers to complete the job, and by a good margin.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe's performance in the field was patchy. Streak erred in direction and there were some minor but unnecessary lapses in the field. To add to their problems, they were playing only five front-line bowlers, including Grant Flower, and lost Brian Murphy early on when he injured himself in the field. Alistair Campbell's occasional off-spin was soon required. Against this, Daren Ganga and especially Gayle played a sensible game of accumulation, developing into aggressive strokeplay with the Zimbabweans powerless to put a brake on them.
Gayle's fifty came up off 61 balls, but soon afterwards he lost Ganga (34), sent back and coming off second-best to fine fielding by Blignaut. Gayle eventually fell for 76, skying a catch to midwicket off Flower, but at 137 for two West Indies were more than halfway there.
Wavell Hinds and Shivnarine Chanderpaul shared a solid partnership, but West Indies were imperceptibly falling behind the required scoring rate; about eight an over were now needed. Chanderpaul (24) suffered an unlucky dismissal when he swept at Campbell and lost his grip on his bat, which hurtled straight into his stumps, giving a hit-wicket dismissal.
Carl Hooper immediately came close to running himself out in his eagerness to get off the mark, and the batsmen reached the boundary at times, but Hinds fell for 54, slashing at Streak and edging to the keeper. West Indies were now under pressure as Hooper and Ridley Jacobs gradually improved the situation against some superb fielding until 19 were needed off the final three overs.
At this point Streak made an unexpected but inspired bowling change, bringing back Flower who struck immediately, as Hooper (24) holed out at long-off. But it was not quite enough and, in a frenetic final over bowled by Streak, West Indies scraped home with one ball to spare, Jacobs hitting the winning boundary to finish with 20.