Thrilling tie at Sabina Park

This match featured two sides with something to prove: Ireland that they belonged on the world’s biggest stage, and Zimbabwe that it had begun to rebuild after the travesties inflicted upon it over the last four years by the Zimbabwe government.

Prior to this match, the Irish opener William Porterfield had played seven ODIs and already had two centuries to his name. For Ireland to post a competitive total, he had to fire and set up a base from which the Irish middle order could build. Unfortunately, after sending the Irish in to bat, things started in ideal fashion for Zimbabwe as Ireland lost Porterfield to the last ball of the first over with the score still on zero.

A period of consolidation ensued between Jeremy Bray and Eion Morgan but just when it looked like the Irish had recovered, Zimbabwe struck again in the 10th over when Morgan nibbled a delivery outside off stump and edged it straight to first slip. Things did not get any better for Ireland when they lost their wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien and the versatile all rounder Andre Botha in quick succession, leaving Ireland at 64-4 after 14 overs.

Kevin O’Brien and the opener Jeremy Bray needed to consolidate and build a big partnership to climb out of the hole, and though it began well, O’Brien edged one to the keeper in the 22nd over, leaving Ireland in a very unenviable position of 89-5. In the meantime, the Irish opener Bray had been playing beautifully at the other end, with beautiful attacking strokes and smart running between the wickets.

He brought up a well-deserved half century, including five fours and two sixes in just 69 balls, but the team needed much more if they were to post a defendable target on a flaccid Sabina Park pitch. Bray finally found someone to help him along, as he and Andrew White put on a 56-run partnership over 15 overs to set Ireland up to post a competitive total.

White was on 28 when he missed a delivery while trying for a pull and was trapped plumb LBW. The Ireland all rounder and captain Trent Johnson came into the middle and was on 10* when rain interrupted proceedings. The rain delay was short, but Ireland seemed to have lost their concentration during the break as a costly run out of Johnson cost Ireland their last real batsman.

Three balls later, Kyle McCallan was stumped when he attempted to sweep, and Zimbabwe were very much into the tail with five overs to go and Ireland struggling to post a competitive total, being on 182-8. Aside from the total, Jeremy Bray was running out of partners at the other end, needing only nine runs for a well-deserved and brave century.

There were some narrow escapes along the way, but Bray brought up his second ODI century in the 48th over, having played 128 balls and acting as both the anchor and primary scorer for the side. There was some additional entertainment towards the end of the Ireland innings when three comical misfields (partly caused by the wet outfield) within six balls in the 49th and 50th overs really put the fire in the Irish sections of the crowd. Ireland ended on 221, a total that seemed nothing more than a pipe dream when their innings were in shambles at 89-5.

That recovery was made possible primarily due to Bray, who managed to carry his bat through the entire innings. He was especially strong on the off side, having scored almost 70% of his runs there and any delivery pitched on his legs was put away with ruthless efficiency.

The pressure of being the only batsman able to score runs did not seem to weigh him down, and he ended the innings with an excellent strike rate of almost 85. His innings ended on 115*, and he scored an astonishing 52% of his team’s runs. No other Ireland batsman went past 28, and only two went past 20. In the post-innings interview with Tony Cozier, the understandably beaming Bray thought the total should be competitive, and Zimbabwe did their best to prove him right.

The Zimbabwean innings started off well, and their opener Terry Duffin was dropped twice in one over from Rankin before finally edging one (in that same over) to the keeper, making the score 26-1 in the sixth over.

After that, it was smooth sailing for Zimbabwe as they cruised to a 66-run partnership between Vusi Sibanda and Chamu Chibhabha. However, when Chibhabha hit one straight to the fielder at mid off, Zimbabwe started a mini collapse. Within a span of 40 runs, three more wickets had fallen (Williams, Sibanda, and Chigumbera), and Zimbabwe were on the brink of defeat.

They were saved that outcome by a brilliant partnership of 70 runs for the sixth wicket between Brendon Taylor and Stuart Matsikenyeri. Matsikenyeri played extremely well for his half-century, and when Taylor was finally run out, the game was merely a formality as Zimbabwe only needed 19 runs more to clinch a victory.

Nevertheless, they seemed to want to make a game of it, as both the batsmen inexplicably went into their shell, and 15 runs from 36 balls became 10 runs from 14 balls. When Gary Brent was out LBW with 10 balls to go, a bit of panic was evident from Zimbabwe. Some of the credit must go to the Irish bowlers however, as they stuck to a good line and length despite the game being seemingly out of reach. Things got worse for Zimbabwe in the next over, as Prosper Utseya made a bad judgment and sliced one right into the welcoming hands of Morgan at cover.

Kevin O’Brien continued his immaculate over by bowling four more dot balls. Zimbabwe helped them along in the last ball of the over by trying to run a single that was never there, making the score 213-9 with nine runs required in the final over. Five runs in the next three balls made the score 218-9, but with the #11 Ed Rainsford on strike.

He managed a single, and two more runs off the next ball by Matsikenyeri made the scores even with one ball to go. The last ball came and Matsikenyeri tried to drive it straight to mid-on, but he missed the ball completely. They tried to take a run nonetheless, but the wicketkeeper made no mistakes in taking off the bails to force an unlikely and a completely thrilling tie.

Ireland 221-9
JP Bray 115*, AR White 28
E Chigumbura 2-21, GB Brent 2-40, CB Mpofu 2-48

Zimbabwe 221
E Matsikenyeri 73, V Sibanda 67
WK McCallan 2-56, KJ O’Brien 1-8, AR White 1-15

Match Tied

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