It’s often hard to tell between Sean Williams and Craig Ervine. Both are lean, tall, white, left-hand batsmen who bowl a bit of part-time spin. Even their faces have similar proportion. They are also two of the more sensible Zimbabwe batsmen, less likely to throw their wickets away than other batsmen who get to play as little top-level cricket as Zimbabwe batsmen and ones from other teams in the same category. Playing their first World Cup match in 19 years, UAE, a team primarily built of middle-aged amateurs, matched Zimbabwe blow for blow, registering their highest ODI score, taking regular wickets, fielding with energy until the left-hand twins came together with 119 required in 17.2 overs. Clinically and ruthlessly, the two broke the deadlock with a partnership of 83 off 62 balls to deny the World Cup its first real thriller, cruising home with two overs to spare.
This was expected to be the most low-key match of the World Cup so far, but turned out to be the closest yet. A lot of credit has to go to UAE, who are only remembered for their 1996 captain Sultan Zaravani going bareheaded to face Allan Donald and wearing one. Nineteen years later, a team more spirited and more suited to the challenge came back to the event although it didn’t show at the start. It was only some good fortune that kept them from losing their openers with fewer than 40 on the board, but after that Khurram Khan and Shaiman Anwar made sure UAE didn’t simply fold up.
The 43-year-old Khurram, UAE’s talisman and an air traffic controller in his life outside cricket, is older than their coach Aaqib Javed and one of the commentators at the match, Shaun Pollock. The 35-year-old Shaiman handles loads on cargo flights. Between them, they made sure this airport was in order through two 82-run stands. Khurram shepherded Krishna Chandran with a 55-ball 45 in the third-wicket association, and when the two followed each other to the pavilion Anwar dominated the fifth-wicket stand with wicketkeeper Swapnil Patil with 67 off 50.
Khurram broke the shackles UAE found themselves in with four fours in the first 14 balls he faced. Then he settled down. This was a flat pitch with a small outfield so Zimbabwe didn’t look too concerned with runs at around four an over. With the Powerplay approaching, Elton Chigumbura went to his strike bowlers, and both produced wickets with the first ball back. Solomon Mire accounted for Chandran, Tendai Chatara took out Khurram.
Anwar and Patil made sure the Powerplay didn’t go to waste, taking 48 runs without losing a wicket. Anwar didn’t begin as smoothly as Khurram, reaching only 7 off 12, before getting stuck into the Powerplay bowling. Even though the two fell in quick succession, Mohammad Naveed and Amjad Javed added 53 off the last 5.5 overs to remind Zimbabwe of their horror finish against South Africa.
The two responsible for taking the target into the uncomfortable category then made it even more uncomfortable, conceding just 18 off the first six overs. Sikandar Raza then cut free with a flurry of boundaries but he felt the pressure with his opening partner Regis Chakabva piling up dots. Raza went to cut in Mohammad Tauqir’s first over, and fell just short of a fifty. Hamilton Masakadza soon fell to Javed’s swing and seam. Another partnership began to brew with Chakabva about to break free in the company of Brendan Taylor, but a freak dismissal brought UAE back.
As Chakabva went back to work a shortish offbreak to leg, his toe slipped under him and he disturbed the wicket to become the first man since Vusi Sibanda in 2007 – another Zimbabwe opener – to be out hit-wicket in a World Cup. Taylor threatened to take the game away, but he fell lbw to a natural variation from Nasir Aziz, an offbreak that didn’t turn as much as expected. An experiment with promoting Mire didn’t end well, and UAE would have fancied themselves just before the Powerplay began.
Now came the most assured period of play from Zimbabwe. Williams had already looked good in reaching 16 off 20 by the time Ervine joined him, and there was something reassuring about hoe he cover-drove the second ball he faced for three. The two began to run UAE ragged with aggressive running and calculated risks in the Powerplay. Ervine moved inside the line of Chandran’s gentlepace and dropped him over square leg for six. Williams skipped to Aziz and lofted him straight for four. Ervine hit another leg-side six. Williams hit another four down the ground. Even before people learnt how to differentiate between the two, the ask had come down to 64 in the last 10 overs.
Ervine’s wicket for 42 off 32, with 36 still required created some excitement, but Williams stayed unbeaten with 76 off 65 to see them through to their fourth-highest successful chase in ODIs.