Zimbabwe gets eliminated from the World Cup by Scotland’s one-sided bowling performance

Early on, Chris Sole stopped Zimbabwe's pursuit

Zimbabwe lost at the very last minute for the second match in two qualifiers, and as a result, they won’t be at the 2023 World Cup. They needed to win one of their final two games, exactly like they did in 2018, but they were unable to do so, just like they did in 2018.

The fact that looking back significantly changes how you perceive an event in sports is an intriguing peculiarity. When Zimbabwe’s bowlers choked Scotland throughout their innings, only just managing to keep their run rate above four per over, it appeared that Zimbabwe had the upper hand.

When Scotland managed to scrape together a total of 234 thanks to a run burst of 54 runs in the final five overs, it seemed like they had reached a respectable total, but not one that would realistically trouble an in-form Zimbabwe batting line-up replete with experience – especially in front of a home crowd that has been electrifying throughout the tournament.

That innings-long strangulation, though, started to take on a different gloss when Chris Sole’s quick bowling sent Joylord Gumbie, Craig Ervine, and Sean Williams packing inside the first seven overs—the first was caught behind, the other two were clean bowled. When all was said and done, it was Zimbabwe who made a mistake, falling short by 31 runs, allowing Scotland to eliminate them in style.

This was a team victory if ever there was one. Prior to Sole’s heroics, at least six batters pitched in for 20 runs in Bulawayo on a slick surface; Michael Leask was the best of the lot with a 34-ball 48.

Out of the six batters who topped 20, Leask was the only one to score at a strike rate of even 70 or above. The other two were Brandon McMullen (34 off 34) and Mark Watt (21 off 15). They did, though, make sure that Scotland checked off the most crucial box on conditions like this: they batted through their 50 overs.

Then, with the ball, each of the six bowlers utilized at least one wicket, reinforcing the value of the team. Together, they survived a comeback headed by Ryan Burl that featured 54 and 73-run partnerships between Sikandar Raza and Wesley 

Madhevere at the fifth and sixth wickets, respectively, both of which were progressing at almost a run per ball. Throughout the entire process, the needed rate was just a little bit above four. The Scottish bowlers were under pressure, but they never gave up because they knew a wicket would turn the tide of the match. And that’s what happened.

The fact that Raza holed out at long-off during an innings in which wickets frequently fell to good deliveries would be regarded as an unintentional misstep. Perhaps Scotland started to believe at this point.

The game’s largest partnership was formed by Madhevere and Burl, who had not previously played a notable innings in the competition, as they found the occasional boundary and profited off of the ones and twos. Enter Mark Watt, who had earlier put together 21 from 34, and he got one to grip and turn, trapping Madhevere in front to claim his lone wicket of the match.

Burl was now alone, having just the tail for company. Burl persevered and eventually shot a career-best 83 off 84, but it wasn’t enough. He mistimed a slog-sweep to midwicket with 38 needed off the final 11.3 overs and two wickets still up for grabs after dispatching the previous two deliveries for four and six. Such heartbreaks were unavoidable in a game with so much on the line.

None more so than for Williams, who had 600 runs at an exact 100 batting average and stood out as the tournament’s best performer. He got a cracker from Sole. A 149 kph thunderbolt nipping back in at your off peg was one of those life’s surprises that Williams was meant to experience, but there are some things you can’t quite plan for.

Euphoria is the antithesis of heartache. At this point in the competition, Scotland has defeated three Full Member nations. If they had lost today, they would not have been able to play ODIs for at least another year.

They won league two to get to these qualifiers, defeated teams that were more renowned than they were, and now they have to compete against Netherlands again on Thursday. If they take the necessary action, they will have a ton more cricket to prepare for.