First, Ireland embarrassed West Indies, then Scotland almost got the better of New Zealand. Afghanistan did well against Bangladesh in phases although they ended up losing by a big margin. On Thursday, UAE continued the tradition of Associate members giving the full-member nations a tough time. Although Zimbabwe managed to recover and win in the end, UAE undoubtedly impressed with both their batting and bowling, and their overall effort on the day. The performances by these minnows seem to be inspired by the fact that ICC have decided to do away with them for the 2019 edition. Clearly, they are proving a point.
UAE's batting against Zimbabwe hardly looked like one by a team that were playing their first World Cup match in two decades. Yes, UAE were last seen in the 1996 edition on the subcontinent. Their openers struggled batting first, and both were dismissed by the time the score reached 40 in the 11th over. But, Krishna Chandran and Khurram Khan combined in a solid stand. They did not set the stadium on fire with their blazing stroke play, but batted sensibly and accumulated runs at a fair clip. While not going on an all-out attack, the duo did ensure that they had laid a solid foundation for the coming batsmen.
Wicket-keeper Swapnil Patil and Shaiman Anwar then ensured that UAE build on the solid foundation. It was a key partnership since the team had lost both Chandran and Khan in quick succession, and another wicket would have put them on the back foot. While Patil was more subdued of the two rotating the strike well, Anwar was unbelievably impressive for someone inexperienced at the international level. He found the boundaries with ease during his half-century scored at a rate of well over a run-a-ball. And, after the two were dismissed Amjad Javed and Mohammad Naveed saw to it that UAE finish on a high, with a flurry of boundaries.
UAE then demonstrated that they were no pushovers with the ball as well. Naveed and Javed after their impressive batting display kept things tight with the ball as well, not allowing the Zimbabwe openers to get off to a flyer. Nasir Aziz and Mohammad Tauqir also bowled tidily and although Zimbabwe continued working towards the target, UAE's bowlers never allowed them to get ahead. In fact, things were evenly matched with 20 overs to go. Either side could have won the game from that point, but the experience of all-rounders Sean Williams and Craig Ervine, and the lack of it in case of Zimbabwe's bowlers proved to be the difference in the end.
Although Zimbabwe allowed things to drag a bit too far in the end, they would be pleased to get a win under their belt. Their bowling was a mixed bag with Tendai Chatara and Solomon Mire getting among the wickets while keeping things tight. Williams also chipped in with a couple of scalps, but the others need to do better. With the bat, the openers got starts, but could not carry on. Brendan Taylor also got into the 40s before being dismissed. At the point of his dismissal, Zimbabwe were clearly in trouble, and had it not been for the Williams-Ervine stand, UAE could have done an Ireland. Clearly, the minnows are not here to make the numbers.
--By A Cricket Analyst