Eight years previously, these two sides had played out a tie that was perhaps the moment that Ireland announced themselves on the world stage, and here they won their third game in four to put them level on points with Pakistan and South Africa with a game in hand over both sides.
In Hobart’s first game of the tournament, Zimbabwe won the toss and inserted Ireland in overcast conditions. Paul Stirling fell early to Tinashe Panyangara, bringing Ed Joyce to the crease. He and William Porterfield saw off the new ball and scored at a steady rate before Porterfield was dismissed for a slow 29.
New man Andrew Balbirnie hit a four first ball, setting the tone for the rest of the innings. Joyce, who had previously survived two close calls (an edge that fell just short of first slip and a dropped catch), hit a well-paced 112 which included three sixes into the leg-side and nine fours, mostly struck through cover or mid-off. He and Balbirnie added 138 – assisted by some average Zimbabwean bowling – but nonetheless it was a vital partnership that set the Irish up for a very good score.
Once Joyce was caught, off Tendai Chatara, Balbirnie and Kevin O’Brien kept up the momentum, adding a quick 59 together before the latter was caught off the same bowler. Gary Wilson hit a useful 25 from 13 balls, and Balbirnie’s fast-scoring knock was ended in the final over of the innings – he was run out trying to keep the strike three agonising runs short of a maiden international century.
Dockrell was one of the not out batsmen, hitting 5 from 3 balls as Ireland finished on a superb 331 for 8. Chatara was the pick of the Zimbabwe bowlers, taking 3 wickets for 61 runs, while Tawanda Mupariwa and Sikandar Raza bowled with control.
In reply, Zimbabwe reached 32 without loss, but lost three wickets in the space of 16 balls to reduce them to 41 for 3 just after the conclusion of the mandatory powerplay. Dockrell was introduced in the twelfth over, and it was he who took the next wicket – Solomon Mire caught by Cusack for 11, cutting a slightly wide one that perhaps bounced higher than the batsman expected.
Zimbabwe were really struggling at this point, but Sean Williams, who has had an excellent tournament so far, and Brendan Taylor counter-attacked. They added 149 together before Taylor was caught for 121 by Kevin O’Brien off Alex Cusack. Dockrell had been a stabilising influence during the partnership for the most part – before his final over he had conceded just 38 runs. But Taylor finally got hold of him in his tenth over, hitting two sixes and a four out of the 18 runs from it. Nevertheless, Dockrell’s final figures of 10-0-56-1 were excellent – if Taylor and Williams had attacked him earlier Zimbabwe probably would have won.
Zimbabwe required 109 from 75 balls when Taylor was dismissed, and Williams continued to attack. But once Craig Ervine was caught for 11, Zimbabwe’s required run rate was hovering around ten an over and it was looking a tough ask.
Sean Williams had reached 96 when he slogged one high into the leg side, and John Mooney was waiting on the boundary. He took the catch brilliantly, but the umpires went upstairs to check if the fielder’s foot was touching the rope. It looked incredibly close, but after numerous replays, he was given out.
With Williams gone, and Panyangara soon following, the Irish could have been forgiven for thinking the game was done and dusted. But Tawanda Mupariwa teed off, hitting two fours and a six off Kevin O’Brien in the penultimate over to bring the requirement down to 7 runs from the final over with two wickets left. First ball, Alex Cusack forced Regis Chakabava to drag it on, swinging the momentum back in Ireland’s favour. Chatara hit a single next ball, bringing Mupariwa back on strike. It was now or never. He promptly hit the ball back over the bowler’s head, and Porterfield, charging in from the straight boundary, took an excellent catch to win the game for Ireland by just 5 runs. In previous games, Ireland’s death bowling had been a problem, but here Porterfield shuffled the bowlers well and Cusack was the pick, with four wickets for 32 runs.
The result confirms Zimbabwe’s elimination from the tournament, but for Ireland it puts them firmly in the race for a quarter final spot. With India being their next game, it could well mean that their final match of the group stage – against Pakistan – will be a winner-takes-all shoot-out.