Ireland won the second of their World Cup warm up games following a tense last over win against Zimbabwe in Nagpur.
Recent games between the pair have been close affairs, and this one proved no exception, as Ireland got over the winning line with three balls and four wickets to spare.
Having won the toss and elected to bat, Zimbabwe were soon in trouble against the impressive new ball attack of Boyd Rankin and Trent Johnston. The latter was captain for the day in the absence of William Porterfield. Ireland also omitted Ed Joyce from their side, electing to give the other middle order batsmen some time at the crease.
Brendan Taylor, so often a thorn in the Irish side, made just a single before edging Johnston to Gary Wilson, keeper for the day. That was the first of three catches for Wilson, as Rankin induced a loose shot from Charles Coventry, and Sean Williams failed when trying to hook Trent Johnston (2-9).
That left Zimbabwe floundering on 12 for 3 in the 8th over, but Tatendu Taibu (45) and Craig Ervine (27) added 62 in 17 overs to gradually rebuild. It came as no surprise that a run-out broke the stand, as the pair had escaped on four occasions, seemingly on different wavelengths when it came to calling.
The departure of Taibu left Zimbabwe on a precarious 100 for 5, and once again the innings was teetering on the brink. Skipper Elton Chigumbura in conjunction with Prosper Utseya (26), added 54, but two wickets from Andre Botha reduced the total to 162 for 7, and it looked like a total of sub 200 was on the cards. Albert van der Merwe (1-28 from 7) impressed with the ball, and also took two catches and a run-out to complete a good all-round display from him.
However, after Chigumbura benefitted from a reprieve on 43, with the total on 167 for 7, carnage ensued. Boyd Rankin was the unfortunate bowler, and his mood wasn’t helped when Chigumbura launched an all-out assault on the Irish attack – 24 coming from the 46th over.
In total, 77 runs came from the final five overs of the innings, with Chigumbura scoring 60 of those. He had a further let off on 93, with a missed stumping chance, and then struck Alex Cusack for consecutive boundaries to finish on 103 not out ( 8 fours, 3 sixes).Those runs came from 81 balls, with the second fifty taking just 20.
The Irish reply got off to the worst possible start, with Paul Stirling holing out to deep square leg off Shingirai Mazakadza – what made it worse was that the bowler had only come on following the withdrawal of Ed Rainsford after just two deliveries, having been struck by a Stirling drive on the leg.
Niall O’Brien (15) fell to a stunning catch at point off Ray Price, but that was a rare high point in a pretty sloppy display from the normally athletic Africans.
The recently maligned Irish middle order answered their critics in style, with Alex Cusack making 47 (67 balls, 5 fours). Andrew White (19) added 40 with Andre Botha, before being bowled by a Sean Williams delivery that turned considerably.
Andre Botha and Kevin O’Brien then judged the run chase almost to perfection, adding 99 in 93 balls. O’Brien was content to play himself in, knowing that if he stayed at the crease, the boundaries would soon follow. Andre Botha reached his 50 from 77 balls (5 fours), but was missed on the deep square leg boundary shortly after, with the total on 167 – that number again!
With just 19 needed, Botha departed for 79, caught inches from the long off ropes by Graeme Cremer. Gary Wilson went shortly after for 7, and with John Mooney on strike, 5 were required off the final over from Mazakadza. A dot ball was followed by a powerful square cut to the boundary, and Mooney secured the win with a single to leg.
Kevin O’Brien finished unbeaten on 62 (61 balls, 6 fours, two sixes), and the strong Irish batting line-up now looks to be peaking at precisely the right time.
A morale boosting win for Ireland, who now travel to Bangladesh, where they start their campaign against the hosts on February 25th.
At Nagpur, Zimbabwe 244-8 (E Chigumbura 103*, T Taibu 45, C Ervine 27, P Utseya 26, T Johnston 2-9, A Botha 2-58) lost to Ireland 245-6 (49.3 overs, A Botha 79, K O’Brien 62*, A Cusack 47, A White 19, N O’Brien 15, R Price 2-37, S Mazakadza 2-39) by four wickets.