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60 hrs of extremes for Chevrons

Zimbabwe cricket team

The high from the win over Pakistan might last a lifetime for some Zimbabwean fans, but for the players, it lasted barely 60 hours.

After that win on Thursday night in Perth, Australia, Zimbabwe celebrated, processed their emotions, packed up, made the 4300km journey to Brisbane, trained for and played the early game yesterday. A game they needed to win to have a realistic chance of qualifying for the semi-finals. It required superhuman resilience to cast aside the mental and emotional fatigue, and perform on a sleepy Brisbane afternoon as they had on that electric night in Perth.

They couldn't. That showed in the way Zimbabwe went about the chase, several ordinary shots reducing them to 35 for 4 inside the powerplay. The decision-making around how to exploit the powerplay appeared questionable when Milton Shumba was sent out to bat at No. 3. Shumba has the lowest T20I strike rate of all the batters in the Zimbabwe middle order, and had endured a torrid T20 World Cup, having scored 55 runs in 64 balls in five matches before this one. A miserable stay at the crease, where he looked shot of confidence, ended with eight runs in 15 balls. There has only been one completed innings of at least 15 balls during the Super 12 stage of this World Cup with a lower strike rate.

Sean Williams, speaking after the match, defended the promotion, saying Shumba had "the ability and talent" to do the job for Zimbabwe.

"I think he strikes the ball really well. He's a stroke-player of the ball. He plays the fast bowlers really well also. He's a good puller of the ball," Williams said. "I think splitting up the senior players through the batting order is an option for us, even if it just hasn't come off for Milton in the last two games."

Even the use of the bowling options didn't feel as tactically purposeful and precise as it had against Pakistan. Blessing Muzarabani was the pick of the bowlers in the powerplay, effectively picking up where he had left off against Pakistan, removing Soumya Sarkar and Litton Das. But he wasn't asked to bowl again, even though there were ostensibly no injury concerns. Muzarabani said the decision had to do with the spinners being more difficult to handle and the pitch being slower than expected. But given this was the Gabba, and Muzarabani is an in-form 6ft 8in fast bowler, it sounded unconvincing.

Williams did allude to the challenge of playing spin, but didn't sound fully sold on the idea. "To be honest with you, I'm not 100% sure [why Muzarabani didn't bowl out]," he said. "What I can tell you is it was very difficult to face spin on that wicket, especially when the ball came slow through the air. It definitely had a little bit of purchase, not that much, but it was really hard to actually hit a boundary with the big boundaries out here."

Evidence of the hangover was most evident in the outfield, where a spate of misfields and dropped chances helped Bangladesh post a total of 150, one they did not look on track for during the first half of that innings. There were at least four clear chances put down. A key opportunity to run Shakib Al Hasan out just as the partnership between him and Najmul Hossain Shanto looked ominous and also cost Zimbabwe dear, particularly when contrasted with Shakib's direct hit in the penultimate over of the Zimbabwean chase that ran out Williams.

Williams said, "Hundred per cent agree [that the fielding was a letdown]. I think those are the areas where those little one-percenters start to creep in, and when it's untidy, in particular the fielding, it tends to creep through into other things. Today that was definitely the difference."

In most walks of life, someone in an extreme emotional state would be allowed to let those emotions subside before being forced to do something that has real consequences for their careers. A euphoric win cannot be followed by clinical ones too easily.

That, however, doesn't make potentially missing out on a historic first T20 World Cup semi-final any easier to accept, and Williams' voice audibly dropped an octave as he reflected on it. "It's an emotional rollercoaster, isn't it? Cricket in general is an emotional rollercoaster. From the first ball to the last ball, a lot happens. There's a lot of ups and downs, happiness, sadness throughout all that.

"Just taking it game-by-game and day-by-day is important for us, and finishing today obviously we're unhappy, but it's the attitude that matters.

"We can still carry on going up. There's only one way to go, and that's to continue learning and to continue growing. I think the squad that we've got here is an excellent bunch of people and human beings, and it's all about each other, and it's not about individuals, and I think that's the most important thing."

Williams has been around so long he even played in the first T20 World Cup in 2007. Few will appreciate better what a missed opportunity this might end up being. But, then again, you don't stick around with Zimbabwean cricket this long unless you enjoy the journey, and on that front, Zimbabwe have certainly not disappointed.

— Cricinfo


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