I have been watching cricket at all levels for more than seventy years, and I have now officially seen everything.
The second Super League match at Harare Sports Club on Thursday had it all, and not altogether in a good way.
Cruising at 166 for one, needing 106 from 17 overs and one ball, the Netherlands contrived to lose their last nine wickets for 104 and their last seven for 59, to lose by one run off the final delivery of the match.
Max O’Dowd and Tom Cooper had put on 125 for the second wicket after O’Dowd and Vikram Singh, starting much more positively than they had on Tuesday as they set out in pursuit of Zimbabwe’s 271, had made a brisk 41 for the first.
Cooper had had a moment of good fortune on 34 when keeper Clive Madande dropped a straightforward catch of Tendai Chatara, who had come into the side in place of Richard Ngarava, and when Ryan Burl came into the attack soon afterwards Cooper took full advantage, hitting him for a string of boundaries and reaching his twelfth ODI half-century.
O’Dowd, who had already passed fifty for the eighth time in ODIs, helped to raise the tempo by cracking Burl for six, and when Blessing Muzarabani came back into the attack Cooper took three more fours of the first over of his new spell.
But when he had reached 74 Zimbabwe secured the breakthrough they so badly needed: O’Dowd pushed Sean Williams towards mid-on, Craig Ervine gathered and threw, and Cooper was short of his ground.
The asking rate was just over six as Colin Ackermann joined O’Dowd, and although this pair added 31 from 45 deliveries, it had crept up to 7.60 by the time O’Dowd, on 81, tried to swing Sikandar Raza away to leg and was caught plumb in front.
That was a crucial blow, but the true turning point came three overs later, when Wessly Madhevere became only the third Zimbabwean player to perform a hat-trick in ODIs: Ackermann was smartly stumped by Madande for 28, Tuesday’s hero Teja Nidamanuru made room to cut and was bowled next ball, and then Paul van Meekeren, pushed up the order, missed another straight one.
Suddenly the Dutch were 213 for six, and now they needed more than ten an over.
Shariz, of whom more in a moment, gave Edwards valuable support, and had a reprieve when a Raza delivery which bowled him turned out to be a no ball; two overs later, however, he was run out.
34 were now required from three overs, with Edwards supported by Musa Ahmad, who had dropped down to nine after injuring himself in the field.
Eleven came off the 48th, bowled by Chatara, to keep the Dutch in the game, but drama gave way to dark comedy as first Edwards and then Musa were caught off Raza full tosses which were belted down the throats of Brad Evans and Burl at long on.
So it was left to Ryan Klein and Fred Klaassen to try to get 19 off the final over: Klein started with a four, followed by a brace and a single, leaving Klaassen with twelve to make from three balls.
They ran two, and then Klaassen despatched Chatara’s penultimate delivery over long on for six, so that four were needed for a scarcely-believable victory.
But Klaassen could only hit the final ball, a full toss, to long off for two, and Klein was run out as they tried in vain for a third which would have tied the scores.
That the Dutch were chasing 272 for victory was mostly due to two crucial partnerships in the Zimbabwe innings, after Ervine had won the toss and elected to bat.
The first was an opening stand of 61 between the skipper and Madhevere, promoted in the order when Innocent Kaia was dropped to make room for Sean Williams, returning to the side after having been indisposed on Tuesday.
Ervine and Madhevere took on Klaassen and Van Meekeren, who looked less sharp than they had in the first game, and gave Zimbabwe a great start, but after Ackermann had bowled Ervine and Van Meekeren had trapped Gary Ballance in front, Shariz took a hand, removing Madhevere and Raza in the space of three deliveries and adding the wicket of Burl in his next over.
That was the cue for the best partnership of the innings, between Williams and Madande, who proceeded to add 104 for the sixth wicket from 93 deliveries, putting the pressure back on the Dutch bowlers.
Even Ryan Klein, who had come into the side instead of Brandon Glover and who had earlier produced an exemplary spell of seam bowling, came in for some punishment as the home side began to regain the initiative.
But then Edwards brought back Shariz, who not only broke the partnership when brother Musa at deep square leg snaffled a slog-sweep by Williams, but added the scalp of Evans two balls later to claim his first five-wicket haul in international cricket.
Williams’ 77 had come from 73 balls and included eleven fours, and Madande went on to made his second fifty of the series before he was caught by Ackermann off Van Meekeren.
The runs continued to come, however, and when Chatara and Muzarabani added 24 for the last wicket the total had reached 271; Shariz was, of course the pick of the bowlers with five for 43, although Klein had bowled even better than his figures of one for 38 suggested.
The Zimbabwean total was probably, as Edwards suggested afterwards, about par, and at 166 for one, although the home side’s array of spinners was making life as difficult as they could, the Dutch seemed very well placed to chase it down.
That they failed to do so will, without taking anything away from the effort by Madhevere, who before Thursday had only taken nine wickets in 27 ODIs, cause a good deal of soul-searching in their camp before the sides do battle in the series decider on Saturday.
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