Fearless Zimbabwe reach T20 World Cup
Hosts Zimbabwe and the Netherlands filled the last two places for the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia by winning their qualifying tournament semi-finals in Bulawayo on Friday.
Reacting positively to a plea from coach Dave Houghton to be fearless, Zimbabwe beat Papua New Guinea by 27 runs after posting 199-5 in 20 overs, then restricting their rivals to 172-8.
Bas de Leede inspired the Netherlands to a seven-wicket win over the United States. Replying to an American total of 138 in 19.4 overs, the Dutch reached 139-3 with six balls to spare.
Australia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, England, India, Ireland, Namibia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and the West Indies had already secured places.
The 16-team tournament runs from October 16 to November 13 with Australia defending a title they won in the UAE last year.
"It is exciting to have qualified for the World Cup," said Zimbabwe captain Craig Ervine. "Having put on 199, we felt we were going to take control of the game.
"I thought our seamers performed very nicely. At the group stage the spinners controlled the game for us, but credit to the seamers today.
"I wish we could play more cricket here (Bulawayo) because the support is unbelievable. We are on the rise and the most important thing is to keep improving."
Houghton, who replaced Lalchand Rajput only a few weeks before the tournament after 3-0 T20 and one-day international series losses at home to Afghanistan, admitted he was "relieved".
"We were under pressure because we were expected to qualify and were the only Test-playing nation among the contenders.
- 'Scared to make mistakes' -
"I'm thrilled with the way the team has responded. I think the biggest thing that I have brought to the team is trying to unlock the fear.
"I have known our players for a long time. They are very talented but too scared to make mistakes. I have tried to take the fear away."
Winning the toss and opting to bat, Zimbabwe clicked with six batsmen led by Wesley Madhevere scoring at least 22 runs.
Madhevere top scored with 42, including five fours, and added 63 runs in a second-wicket partnership with Ervine.
Papua New Guinea, who scraped into the semi-finals after winning just one of three group matches, were close to matching the Zimbabwe run rate for much of the innings with Tony Ura starring.
But when Ura fell off the final ball of the 14th over, after notching 66, including five sixes and four fours, the islanders lost momentum.
Blessing Muzarabani was the most succesful Zimbabwe bowler, taking two wickets at the expense of 24 runs in four overs.
Zimbabwe will be making a fifth appearance at the T20 finals.
In the other semi-final, captain Monank Patel top scored for the USA with 32 and Steven Taylor, their star batsman in the group stage, contributed 26.
De Leede and Paul van Meekeren took two wickets each, but Fred Klaassen, who captured five wickets against Uganda on Thursday, had a disappointing 0-40 four-over stint.
After impressing with the ball, De Leede sparkled with the bat, striking an unbeaten 91, including three sixes and nine fours.
Captain and wicketkeeper Scott Edwards weighed in with a run-a-ball 26 to ensure a fourth consecutive T20 World Cup appearance for the Dutch.