Raza shines as Zimbabwe edge Ireland in a thrilling one-wicket victory


HARARE – Over years, Zimbabwe and Ireland have had the knack for producing thrilling contests. The latest was a Zimbabwe one-wicket win over Ireland at Harare Sports Club in the opening T20I match played on Thursday. The match was won by in fortuitous fashion, as an inside edge off Blessing Muzarabani's bat beat wicketkeeper Lorcan Tucker to steer the Chevrons towards taking the lead in the three-match T20I series.

Sikandar Raza shines as Zimbabwe beat Ireland by one wicket, December 2023
Image: Zimbabwe Cricket

The exhilarating match was filled with breathtaking catches, shifts in momentum, and a touch of luck – Zimbabwe's last-ball triumph against Ireland in the first-ever international match under lights at the Harare Sports Club had it all, provided reprieve from a disappointing campaign in Namibia, and it left spectators on the edge of their seats for the final few overs.

Sikandar Raza’s splendid all-round performance powered Zimbabwe to victory in a spectacular fashion. Amidst heated exchanges and a test of nerves, Zimbabwe stoically managed to clinch a dramatic 1-0 lead in the series, thanks to Raza's contribution.

While Raza starred with a composed 65 off 42 balls, the pace trio of Richard Ngarava, Blessing Muzarabani, and debutant Trevor Gwandu emerged as unlikely heroes, not just with the ball, but with the bat as well; managing to find a way to get the runs required at the death. 

Raza, with three wickets, played a pivotal role in restricting Ireland to 147. Despite a challenging chase and wickets falling at the other end, Raza's composed innings provided the backbone of the pursuit, complemented by some crucial contributions from the lower order.

With Ireland seemingly in control, the equation came down to nine runs off the final over. Ngarava and Gwandu managed only three runs off the first three balls, intensifying the pressure. Ngarava got a boundary on the fourth delivery leaving Zimbabwe needing two runs off the last two balls – simple, right? 

However, a game-changing moment arrived when Mark Adair executed a breathtaking catch, only to be injured in the process. In the midst of palpable tension, the drama reached its crescendo as Muzarabani, with two runs required off the last ball, secured a lucky inside edge that evaded the wicketkeeper.

Earlier, Zimbabwe had won the toss and decided to field first. Andy Balbirnie initiated a fiery start for Ireland, asserting dominance by striking Ngarava for three exquisite fours, notably with two stunning cover drives. 

Subsequently, he tackled Muzarabani, dispatching him over point for a boundary and a six. Paul Stirling then welcomed Gwandu to international cricket by consecutively hitting him for three fours, propelling Ireland to a commanding 38 for no loss within three overs.

With an astute display of off-pace deliveries, Muzarabani effectively slowed down Ireland’s innings. Ngarava took advantage of the pressure built by the quiet over, returning to dismiss Stirling with a low full toss, altering the momentum of the game significantly.

As spin was introduced, Raza made an immediate impact, toppling Balbirnie with a delivery that spun in, confusing the experienced batter's attempted sweep and claiming his leg stump. 

Ireland grappled to maintain the tempo against spin, as Williams further compounded the challenge by delivering two impeccable deliveries, eventually leading to the dismissal of Lorcan Tucker, caught at backward point.

A tight spin squeeze ensued, with only 53 runs accumulated off eight consecutive overs post the powerplay. Consequently, the mounting pressure resulted in Muzarabani dismissing Dockrell with a crafty off-cutter, leaving Ireland at 108 for 5 with five overs remaining.

Raza secured his third wicket by trapping Tector in front with a cleverly angled delivery, while Adair's attempt to go for a big shot off Ngarava resulted in being caught at long-on. 

McCarthy offered a straightforward catch to point, falling victim to Muzarabani's slower variations in the subsequent over, as Ireland's innings was on the verge of conclusion.

Delany provided a late surge for Ireland, guiding them past 140 with an impactful final over, culminating in two striking sixes down the ground punishing debutant Trevor Gwandu including one that hit the roof, bringing a momentarily electrifying conclusion to the innings. 

The next match is on Saturday as the Chevrons eye to clinch a series win. 

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