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‘At the end of the day, we fell short. Everybody’s really gutted’ – Ervine

The middle order showed more life and threat as Chris Sole won Player of the match for taking figures for 3-33 and ripping the life out of Zimbabwe’s top order and doing it as early as 2 wickets in the first 2 overs. His fastest ball was clocked at 151km per hour well over the 120 speed limit on most highways for small cars.

Zimbabwe won the toss and opted to field first. Opener Joylord Gumbie set the wrong tone however, as he faced one ball and was gone for a duck. Captain Craig Ervine managed 2 runs from 6 balls.

Ervine told Sky Sports: “We did well to restrict them to 230. Unfortunately that opening spell from Chris Sole put us on the back foot, and it was extremely tough to come back from that position.”

“At the end of the day, we fell short. Everybody’s really gutted. It would have been nice to put those demons from 2018 to bed, but unfortunately we didn’t. It’s a moment we’ll live with for a long time.”

“I’m proud of the way we played our cricket, and there’s a lot of positives we can take from this tournament. We really appreciate the crowds coming to support us, and hopefully that will continue.”

Perhaps the wicket of the red-hot form player Sean Williams with 12 runs from 16 balls cemented the tone after a reachable 237 target set by Scotland. Many Zimbabweans will surely be heartbroken that this target proved too far even with 8.3 overs (51 balls) remaining.

Ryan Burl will be disappointed his commendable 83 off 84 balls was not enough in the end. An injury while diving to avoid a run out slowed him down considerably before adding a 4 and a 6 and then being caught.

Wesley Madhevere was caught LBW with 40 runs from 39. But many will surely remember his lively cameo, down the order.

Once Williams was gone it was left to Sikandar Raza to rescue the innings. It looked an impossible task when he came in. Being dropped thereafter certainly helped him regain his composure.

In the 2023 qualifiers Zimbabwe beat all the teams they faced except Sri Lanka and Scotland. The victory over Oman was closer and entertaining. Suddenly one victory in 2 games was all they needed to qualify for the World Cup. And that victory was a bridge too far. Or two bridges.

That victory did not come in an underwhelming game against Sri Lanka in Bulawayo. Would it come in their last game against Scotland? That was the intriguing question as Scotland set 234 runs for Zimbabwe to chase. Sadly, the chase ended at 202.

In the first 2 overs Zimbabwe lost the 2 wickets of Gumbie and Ervine. Scotland were mean in their fielding denying Zimbabwe boundaries in those first 10 overs.

“We knew that if we got off to a good start, then we’d be right amongst it, and we did. We’ve got a very important game to go, and a great atmosphere makes it very fun to play cricket on a stage like this.”

At 35-3 after the loss of Sean Williams, Williams being the most in-form batsman, Sikandar Raza was dropped. It surely would have been game over to lose both so early. Innocent Kaya was given LBW which the umpire reviewed.

It was inconclusive and they went with the umpire’s decision, OUT. Scotland pace was proving too much for Zmbabwe. Ryan Burl came in at 6. He had a high score of 50 in his career.

Chris Sole for Scotland was finding results from hunting the stumps. The running in between wickets took a while to take off for Zimbabwe.

A graphic on the TV coverage showed that Scotland have the second best bowling performance of the teams in this qualifying tournament, behind only Sri Lanka.

Zimbabwe were very unfortunate to face these in changed conditions in Bulawayo when perhaps they had settled in Harare where they won all their games. The cloudy weather didn’t help either.

Sole took credit however claiming: “Best bit of advice I’ve ever been given is to bowl as quick as you can,” he said on Sky Sports. “Luckily it went in the right direction today.

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“We knew that if we got off to a good start, then we’d be right amongst it, and we did. We’ve got a very important game to go, and a great atmosphere makes it very fun to play cricket on a stage like this.”

My first encounter with Raza was a 3 game ODI game against India in 2013 when he scored 85 in one ODI game.

In that series Zimbabwe was introduced to Virat Kohli. Raza was celebrating the birth of his daughter back then. He has made strides in the time in between and become one of the best batsmen in the world and can also contribute wickets.

The crowd has rightly been commended as the 12th man for Zimbabwe. Their optimism proved boundless despite the batting order starting on the wrong foot. A mindset shift was needed on the field.

Safyaan Sharif took over the bowling from Sole after 10 overs. Everything Scotland fielders touched was turning to gold. Zimbabwe would surely have been out of sight if they converted those boundaries. They had to run more in between the wickets and exert pressure.

It felt as if slow momentum was finally building for Zimbabwe after 15 overs despite the early Scottish siege. After all Raza was still there. All Scotland needed was a knockout blow with the tournament’s second-best bowling unit. But Zimbabwe managed to stay in the game.

Suddenly Shariff bowled a no ball to bring Zimbabwe’s 50. The free hit was hit for a welcome 6 by Raza and the roof came off the tense home ground again.

The next ball was single before Zimbabwe found a boundary finally on the ground. The next 2 50 run partnerships got Scotland worried in Bulawayo to take Zimbabwe to 181-7.

Zimbabwe suddenly looked like they were beginning to settle. Scotland turned to a spinner. Zimbabwe was beginning to find the gaps. A banner in the audience suggested: “Our bosses don’t know we are here.”

In those first 14 overs it felt as if Zimbabwe were not running enough. But from the disappointing start surely they would take 66-4. Zimbabwe were beginning to settle, especially Burl. They were finding boundaries now. And the running in between showed some improvement.

Raza lost his wicket for 37 runs.

Madhevere had a lively and productive cameo. Burl remained. But he was running out of partners with the game delicately poised with Zim needing 53 from 82 balls. The pressure had shifted again.

Perhaps Burl, who found himself a senior suddenly should have talked and engaged more with the lower order to calm them down and leave it up to him to go for it or to simply rotate strike. Sadly, Wellington Masakadza failed to sustain his blocking innings for as long as Zimbabwe needed although he did well to block a few.

Tendai Chatara came in with Zim needing 53 from 78 balls. Shariff was brought back to bowl for Scotland. Squeaky bum time.

Burl needed medical attention when he dived to avoid a run out. His boundary brought some release before he hit a 6. Bulawayo loved that. And then the catch. How is that for drama. 38 needed from 68 was Burl’s legacy nursing an injury. Even a Scottish player patted him on the back.

Zimbabwe survived a last wicket LBW review by a whisker. Would the tail wag? Mark Ward came to bowl in the final power play.

The tension was palpable and the 12th man counted.

Sharif struck to eliminate Zimbabwe with this defeat as well as on net run rate. But if the honest truth be told Zimbabwe have also been winners. Ervine, Williams and Raza would perhaps look back with regret in the end as Zimbabwe could only get to 41.3 overs with 203 just shy of the target.

Dave Houghton the father of Zimbabwe cricket brought Zimbabwe very far in the Qualifiers. Perhaps Zimbabwe could solidify training on rotating strike more 35 balls in singles proved too much for the tail enders, Muzarabani and Chatara.

Chris Sole was named Man of the Match. He bowled a fastest ball at 151km/hr. his other balls were not far, He was the difference here. He was not looking too far ahead as he saluted the “fantastic home crowd.”

The nature of a cricket World Cup make these exclusive affairs, meaning Zimbabwe, West Indies and a few other good sides will miss out on the 10 stage “World Cup/”.

If Zimbabwe had qualified they would have faced South Africa. Southern Africa never really stood a chance, let alone Africa. ICC with the 3 behemoth countries of India, Australia and England does not like surprises.

Building on the positive crowd support in Zimbabwean support, itself a wonder, will be impossible after this. It’s a small world indeed.