Zimbabwe clinched an edge-of-the-seat last-ball thriller against Ireland following the all-round brilliance of skipper Sikandar Raza to claim the first T20I of the three-match series at the Harare Sports Club on Thursday, December 7.
Raza did everything in his capacity to push Zimbabwe over the line. It started off with him calling it right at the toss and choosing to field first - a decision that turned out to be right and was supported by an overall disciplined bowling effort. The skipper of the Chevrons chipped in with three big Irish wickets to make the job of his bowlers easier.
Raza dismissed Andy Balbirnie, Harry Tector and Curtis Campher to claim a three-for and finished with figures of 4/28 in his quota of four overs. The top-four Irish batters got starts but couldn't really kick on.
Pacers Blessing Muzarabani and Richard Ngarava claimed two wickets apiece to ensure the visitors were kept under check throughout their innings. Some late flourish from Gareth Delany (26* off 11 balls) helped the Paul Stirling-led side post 147 for the loss of eight wickets in their 20 overs.
In reply, Wessly Madhevere (26 off 25 deliveries) was forced to play a sedate knock as the pace-bowling pair of Barry McCarthy and Josh Little got the better of Tadiwanashe Marumani and Sean Williams up front. Ireland felt they had things in control after reducing the hosts to 53/3 inside nine overs, and rightly so.
However, Raza had other ideas. The 37-year-old batting allrounder picked the right kind of deliveries to pounce upon and manoeuvred the strike well to take Zimbabwe closer to the finishing line. He scored a well-deserved half-century (65 off 42 balls) with the help of five fours and two sixes at a strike rate of 154.76.
Raza perished with 12 more to get off nine balls and the game took an intriguing turn. With nine to win off the last six balls and two wickets in hand, Ireland pinned their hopes on McCarthy to get the job done for them but their hopes came crashing down as Zimbabwe's tail wagged and secured the cliffhanger by one wicket.