Nepal – 290-8 in 50 overs (Kushal Bhurtel 99, Aasif Sheikh 66, Kushal Malla 41; Richard Ngarava 4/43, Wellington Masakadza 2/42, Blessing Muzarabani 1/48)
Zimbabwe – 291-2 in 44.1 overs (Craig Ervine 121*, Sean Williams 102*, Wessly Madhevere 32; Sompal Kami 1/30, Gulsan Jha 1/56)
Zimbabwe won by eight wickets
Magnificent centuries by Zimbabwe’s two most experienced batters, Craig Ervine and Sean Williams, took them to an outstanding eight-wicket victory over Nepal in the opening match of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2023 at Harare Sports Club on Sunday.
The hosts won the toss on a bright sunny morning and put their opponents in to bat.
The Nepalese innings got off to a great start with their opening batters putting together a partnership of 171 within 32 overs.
Two powerful fours from Kushal Bhurtel in the fifth over, bowled by Tendai Chatara, signalled the start of a remarkable onslaught.
Even so, most of the runs came from singles and an occasional boundary, but the bowlers could not break through, and Bhurtel and the less flamboyant Aasif Sheikh had 114 on the board at the 25-over mark.
Then Bhurtel stepped up the attack, and Sheikh joined in, reaching his fifty in the course of three successive boundaries off Chatara, the over costing 17 runs.
The score had reached 171 in the 32nd over before a wicket finally came, as Bhurtel on 99 hit over a yorker from Wellington Masakadza and was bowled.
It was a sad ending for him after a magnificent innings that came off 95 balls and included two sixes and 13 fours.
Sheikh, perhaps unsettled by the loss of his partner, followed in Masakadza’s next over, lobbing up a straightforward catch to depart for 66, off 100 balls with seven fours.
There followed another good partnership for the third wicket, as Kushal Malla and Rohit Paudel hit hard and added 72 together in less than 10 overs.
They departed in successive overs, Paudel to Richard Ngarava for 31 off 29 balls and Malla to Chatara for 41 off 42, the score now being 255 for four in the 45th over.
The following batters had to hit out in the remaining overs and were not very successful, especially in Ngarava’s final spell, when he took another three wickets.
Nepal nevertheless reached a very creditable score of 290 for eight wickets after their 50 overs.
Ngarava finished with the best bowling figures of four wickets for 43 off nine overs, while Masakadza, who made the vital breakthrough, had two for 42 off 10.
Zimbabwe had a serious run-chase on their hands, and opened their batting with Joylord Gumbie and Ervine, the former hitting two fine off-side fours in the first over.
Ervine too quickly cracked a boundary, and the pair put on 45 runs together in eight overs before Gumbie on 25 from 29 balls was given out to a debatable lbw decision.
Wessly Madhevere made a good partner for Ervine, and the two took the score to 100 in 19 overs.
They handled particularly well Nepal’s world-rated leg-spin bowler Sandeep Lamichhane, whose first six overs cost 40 runs, and he certainly did not bowl at his best.
Ervine and Madhevere put on 82 runs in 15 overs before Madhevere was caught off a miscued pull, having scored 32 off 38 balls – 127 for two in the 24th over.
Williams joined Ervine and they built another good partnership together, taking the score past 200 in the 34th over.
Two successive fours brought Williams his fifty off 41 balls, and then Ervine reached his invaluable century off 111 deliveries.
Williams was eager for a century of his own to mark his 150th ODI appearance in style, and he laid into the bowling with a dazzling array of strokes, while Ervine helpfully gave him most of the bowling.
His second fifty took him only 29 balls, and in the end he lashed a ball through the off-side field for four to reach the landmark, which took him only 70 balls in total, and to level the scores.
A leg-bye off the next ball to end the match was rather an anticlimax, but Zimbabwe’s batters had won the match for their team with almost six overs in hand.
Ervine, on the field throughout the match, finished with 121 not out off 128 balls, with a six and 15 fours, while Williams’ figures were a six and 13 fours.
None of the Nepalese bowlers proved effective, and their star bowler Lamichhane was quite dominated, his 10 overs costing 77 runs without a wicket.
Zimbabwe next play the Netherlands at the same venue on Tuesday.