By R Kaushik in Sylhet
The Netherlands goes down by five wickets in last-ball finish, with Tom Cooper's unbeaten 72 going in vain
Having suffered the heartbreak of a last-ball defeat in its previous game against Ireland two days back, Zimbabwe responded admirably to Brendan Taylor’s exhortations, getting on the board with a hard-earned, heart-stopping, last-ball, five-wicket victory against the Netherlands at the Sylhet Division Stadium on Wednesday (March 19) evening.
The Netherlands paid the ultimate price for an extraordinary sequence of poor decision-making right at the start of play in the Group B encounter after Peter Borren won the toss and opted to bat, losing two wickets inside the first two overs and slumping to 35 for 4 midway through the fifth over.
Apart from Stephan Myburgh, trapped leg before by Prosper Utseya off the day’s third delivery to a marginal call from Steve Davis, none of the other wickets were earned by Zimbabwe’s bowlers.
It was once again left to Tom Cooper to shore up the innings, and the elegant right-hand batsman didn’t disappoint. Fortunate not to drag the first ball he faced from Tendai Chatara on to his stumps, Tom put on 52 for the fifth wicket with Ben, his young brother, and a further 53 for the next with Mudassar Bukhari, clearly dominating both partnerships on his way to an unbeaten 72 that gave the Netherlands a final tally of 140 for 5, middling but competitive nevertheless.
Borren’s decision to set a target was perhaps influenced by the swing Zimbabwe’s bowlers got in the previous game against Ireland when the lights took effect. There was some movement in the air once again, but Hamilton Masakadza and Taylor negotiated it with both flair and circumspection during a second-wicket stand of 62, which set up, but did not necessarily complete the chase. Taylor made an industrious 49 and Sean Williams all but settled the issue, but it needed Vusi Sibanda, batting to apply the finishing touches under mounting pressure. Sibanda was involved in a mix-up that saw Williams run out, but with one needed off the last ball, he calmly smashed Ahsan Malik over long-on, Zimbabwe eventually reaching 146 for 5 off the very final delivery of the match.
Pieter Seelaar had threatened a late dramatic twist by accounting for Masakadza and Elton Chigumbura in the space of three deliveries but Taylor, more intelligent placement and electric running than exceptional strokeplay, put on 39 for the fourth wicket with Williams to take his team to within 15 of victory with 12 deliveries left. Borren then picked up a stunner at cover, leaping overhead and plucking Taylor’s inside-out drive to give the Netherlands, never losing hope or heart, a fresh lease of life.
Zimbabwe had appeared to have left it too late, having reached the last five overs needing 46. Taylor and Williams relied on frenetic running to eat into the total, but Netherlands was always within Taylor’s wicket of being in with a shot, and when the Zimbabwe skipper was dismissed, it was all over its opponents.
Williams showed commonsense and had a stroke of fortune in the final over when he edged Malik to fine leg to tie the scores, but was then run out off the penultimate delivery, leaving the weight of the world on Sibanda’s shoulders. You would never have guessed, given the nonchalance with which Sibanda sealed victory.
The Netherlands seemed to have put its poor recent batting form behind it, given the ease with which it had reined in UAE’s 151 in the previous game, but its old failing came back to haunt it as it fell prey to bizarre shot-selection. Wesley Barresi, having raced to 12 off just 5 deliveries, was bowled through the gate by Tinashe Panyangara, Michael Swart was run out straying out of his crease and Borren played the worst stroke of all, charging Utseya and picking out mid-on with his side already in all sorts of trouble and plunging the Netherlands further into the abyss.
The Cooper boys had to both consolidate and accelerate; the early part of their association was all about arresting the slide. Zimbabwe got through its overs quickly, Natsai M’shangwe – coming in for fellow legspinner Tafadzwa Kamungozi – and Williams – giving nothing away and relishing bowling at two batsmen under some pressure. The Netherlands went five overs without a boundary as Zimbabwe upped its game, and just when it was threatening to cut loose, the left-hander Ben, gently drove M’Shangwe to long-on.
It was as if that was the cue Tom had been waiting for. Suddenly, the strokes began to flow with great fluency and urgency, necessitated by the rapid running out of overs. Bukhari was primarily the silent partner as Tom went into overdrive, reaching his half-century in 46 deliveries with a fine sweep off Utseya before taking Panyangara apart with three successive fours, all on the leg-side, in the 18th over.
The final push netted the Netherlands 45 in the last 5. Nearly enough, until Sibanda decided to open his shoulders.