Inform all-rounder Sikandar Raza produced yet another magical innings to inspire Zimbabwe to a comprehensive 31-run win over Ireland in their opening match of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup at the Bellerive Oval in Hobart, Australia on Monday.
, Australia on Monday.
Raza, who was in brilliant form in the lead-up to the global tournament, yet again showed why he is one of the top players in world cricket at the moment with a Man of the Match display.
He first set the stage for Zimbabwe’s victory by smashing five fours and as many sixes in his breathtaking knock of 82 from 48 as they recovered from 37 for three to 174 for seven in their allotted 20 overs after being sent in to bat first.
The 36-year-old allrounder then claimed one wicket for 22 runs with his off-spin to complement some fine work by Zimbabwe’s seam trio of Blessing Muzarabani, Richard Ngarava, and Tendai Chatara as Ireland were restricted to 143 for nine in reply.
Earlier Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie opted to field after winning the toss and his bowlers responded well as they reduced Zimbabwe to 37 for three within the powerplay.
The duo of Regis Chakabva (0) and Wessly Madhevere (22) were found wanting against left-arm pacer Josh Little’s pace and bounce while skipper Craig Ervine was dismissed by leg spinner Simi Singh for just nine runs.
It was yet another familiar script for Zimbabwe who on several occasions have struggled with the bat early on, only for Raza to come to their rescue.
And as he has so often done, Raza responded by sharing a crucial stand of 42 runs for the fourth wicket with Sean Williams.
Unfortunately, Williams was brilliantly caught at the boundary of Singh’s bowling in the 11th over of the innings as Ireland appeared to claw their way back into the match.
Crucially for Zimbabwe, they simply had no answers against Raza who took their bowling attack apart with a dominant batting display.
Even though he kept running out of partners throughout the innings, Raza did get good support at the back end from Luke Jongwe, who remained unbeaten on 20 from just 10 deliveries.
Raza played right until the end of Zimbabwe’s innings but he was cleaned up while going for a big shot in the very last delivery.
By then he had already done enough to lay the foundation for the competitive total of 174 for seven, which looked unlikely at one point.
In the process, Raza broke several records. He now holds the record for the highest score by a Zimbabwean at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, as his 82 eclipsed former captain Brendan Taylor’s unbeaten 60 against Australia at the 2007 edition of the tournament in South Africa.
Ireland began their run chase under immense pressure while Zimbabwe were desperate to complement Raza’s batting heroics with a solid bowling effort.
Ngarava ensured Zimbabwe seized complete control of the game as he removed the dangerous Paul Stirling from the second delivery of the innings before discussing Lorcan Tucker in the very next over.
Muzarabani hardly looked like a player returning from a long-term injury as he followed up with the wickets of Harry Tector and Andrew Balbirnie in the very next over to reduce Ireland to 22/4. Curtis Campher (27) and George Dockrell (24) tried their best to lead Ireland’s recovery but their 42-run partnership was broken when Raza came on to bowl and cleaned Dockrell up completely.
Zimbabwe could have won by an even bigger margin were guilty of dropping a couple of catches late on which helped Ireland bat out their 20 overs.
Gareth Delaney (24) and Barry McCarthy (22*) tried to get Ireland close to the target but they still fell short by 31 runs as Zimbabwe coasted to a dominant win on their return to the World Cup since 2016.
Zimbabwe are now well poised to progress to the Super 12 for the first time in the country’s history as they need one win from their last two first-round matches against West Indies on Wednesday and Scotland on Friday.