The Nearly Men: Zimbabwe at the World Cup

At the conclusion of the league phase of the recent Cricket World Cup 2015, the focus of the cricketing world rested largely on three areas—England’s inglorious yet not entirely unexpected exit, the heartening performance of the Associates and, naturally, on the quarter-final match-ups to come. That left out of the spotlight the Republic of Zimbabwe, a Full Member team that had finished second-last in Pool B, behind Ireland, an Associate nation, and ahead of only the United Arab Emirates. Although the final standing compels us to dismiss Zimbabwe’s campaign as a dismal one, delving a few yards beneath the surface presents the story of a combative unit which fought and matched superior men, but alas, never for long enough to secure the crown.

The Nearly Men: Zimbabwe at the World Cup

In their opening game, Zimbabwe had South Africa at 83 for 4 in the 21st over, just one wicket away from exposing South Africa’s not-too-strong lower-middle batting. Instead, their bowling let Miller and Duminy put on an unbeaten 256 to lead South Africa to a very respectable 339. The chase, at 214 for 3 in the 36th, thanks to a Masakadza assault, and with Brendon Taylor still at the crease, was certainly on. But, under mounting pressure, the next seven wickets fell for 63 and Zimbabwe folded up for 277.

The next encounter, this time against the UAE, saw the Zimbabwe bowling concede 285 but Sean Williams led the chase with a 76*, with able contributions from Raza, Chakabva, Taylor and Ervine, to notch up what turned out to be Zimbabwe’s only victory. Next up were the Windies, and the Zimbabwe bowling got the hiding that many had seen coming to it. Gayle and Samuels racked up 372 but the Zimbabwe batting did themselves no harm by responding with a spirited 289, led again by Williams. The Zimbabwe bowling bounced back in the next match by restricting Pakistan to a gettable 235 but the batting chose just the wrong occasion to not turn up, save for a promising partnership between Taylor and Williams. Zimbabwe’s 215 was their lowest score of the tournament.

Ireland, the pick of the Associate teams, having beaten West Indies, came fancying their chances against Zimbabwe and amassed 331. Taylor, who had been displaying a fine touch with the bat in the tournament but not producing the runs to show for it, scored an explosive 121 and, after he left, the reliably consistent Williams accelerated his scoring and kept Zimbabwe in the hunt. Then came the twist. Williams was given out caught on the midwicket boundary by Mooney in the last ball of the 47th over, with replays being far from conclusive on whether Mooney’s foot touched the rope. Still, Zimbabwe had it with them to close it out with only seven needed off the final over, but the crafty Cusack plucked two wickets to hand Zimbabwe a gutting defeat.

Zimbabwe played the Indian juggernaut next, a match that had no bearing on either side’s fortunes—the former already eliminated; the latter qualified for the knockouts. Taylor notched up another explosive hundred, his second in a row, Williams scored yet another valuable half-century, and Zimbabwe posted a very competitive 287. But India romped home on the back of a brilliant hundred from Raina, ably supported by Dhoni’s half-century. As in the rest of their tournament, Zimbabwe were good but not good enough. Pommie Mbangwa so fittingly summed them up as “nearly-men” in his post-match presentation.

In a World Cup where they were led by their batsmen, Zimbabwe scored more runs overall than Australia, New Zealand and India. But, again, in a World Cup where their bowlers largely let them down, they gave away more runs than any other team in the competition—in fact, nearly double that of Australia. With the talismanic Brendon Taylor leaving their ranks, Zimbabwe have a huge void to fill in the batting and keeping departments too. The road to being a consistent performer at the world stage is certainly an arduous one but this World Cup campaign should nevertheless give Zimbabwe the faith to keep at it untiringly.