Williams, Ervine’s twin centuries inspire Zimbabwe to flying start against Nepal

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Sean Williams and Craig Ervine celebrate after guiding Zimbabwe to a win over Nepal in the first match of the World Cup Qualifiers. | Photo Credit: Zimbabwe Cricket

Unbeaten centuries from captain Craig Ervine and Sean Williams steered Zimbabwe to a comprehensive eight-wicket win over Nepal in the opening encounter of the ICC Men’s World Cup Qualifier at Harare Sports Club on Sunday.

After being set a challenging target of 291 runs, Zimbabwe, who were cheered on by a vocal capacity home crowd never looked troubled as they comfortably reached the target for the loss of just two wickets to win with 35 balls to spare.

Ervine led from the front with a captain’s knock as he smashed 121 runs off 128 balls in another superb innings which featured 15 fours and a six.

He was joined at the crease at the end by the evergreen Williams, who playing in his 150th ODI struck an entertaining 102 off 70 balls, in the process breaking the record for the fastest ODI century by a Zimbabwean.

The experienced pair shared an unbroken match-winning third-wicket partnership stand of 164 runs.

Earlier, after Zimbabwe won the toss and elected to field, Nepal rode on an impressive opening stand between Kushal Bhurtel and Aasif Sheikh to reach 290 for eight wickets off their 50 overs.

Bhurtel appeared on course to reach what would have been a deserved century until his dismissal for 99 while Sheikh scored 66 runs.

Zimbabwe were sloppy in the field with Raza failing to hold on to a difficult catch in the fourth over which gifted Bhurtel a second life while he was still on just one run.

Seamer Tendai Chatara also had a nightmare in the field with a couple of missed opportunities and comical fielding errors as the Nepal batters threatened to unsettle the hosts with an opening stand of 171 runs inside 32 overs.

Off-spinner Wellington Masakadza eventually provided the much-needed breakthrough for Zimbabwe as he dismissed both Bhurtel and Sheikh.

Seamer Richard Ngarava was the hosts’ most successful bowler as he finished with four wickets for 43 runs off his nine overs.

After their bowlers managed to peg Nepal back to below 300 runs, Zimbabwe would have backed themselves to a successful chase on a good batting wicket.

And despite losing debutant Joylord Gumbie (25) and Wessly Madhevere (32), they were able to cruise to victory courtesy of Ervine and Williams.

“We didn’t start really well, dropping a couple of catches cost us but credit to the guys for pulling it back. We thought that 280-290 would be chasable because the wicket looked very nice,” Ervine said after the match.

“We thought there would be a little bit more movement early on but the wicket played really well today. The conditions were very good, their openers batted really well but we didn’t take our early chances. Credit to them, they put us under pressure in the early part of their innings. We were just trying to break down into small chunks during the chase, just trying to concentrate on where the gaps are and what the bowlers are trying to do,” added the Zimbabwe captain, who was also named the Player of the Match.

With this win, Zimbabwe will look to book a Super 6 berth when they face Netherlands in their second Group A match at the same venue on Tuesday.

In the other match played on Sunday, West Indies began their campaign on a winning note following a 39-run win against the United States of America (USA) at Takashinga Cricket Club.

The action continues on Monday, with Sri Lanka facing the United Arab Emirates and Ireland taking on Oman in Group B matches in Bulawayo.

Only two of the 10 teams taking part in the three-week qualifier will make the World Cup to be played in India in October and November.

Scores in Brief

Nepal 290/8 in 50 Overs (Kushal Bhurtel 99, Aasif Sheikh 66, Ngarava 4/43) lost to Zimbabwe 291/2 in 44.1 Overs (Craig Ervine 121*, Sean Williams 102* by eight wickets.

Player of the Match: Craig Ervine

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