Rain helps the home team

The Zimbabwean players go around the ground with their nation's flag after qualifying for the Super Sixes.-Pic. AFP

Yet, when the curtains came down on the group stage, it was Zimbabwe and Kenya that made it after a rather remarkable sequence of events, even as the fancied South Africa found itself squeezed out of the race.

AMONG the three hosts of the 2003 World Cup, South Africa was the overwhelming favourite to enter the Super Sixes stage, Zimbabwe and Kenya being poor cousins.

Yet, when the curtains came down on the group stage, it was Zimbabwe and Kenya that made it after a rather remarkable sequence of events, even as the fancied South Africa found itself squeezed out of the race.

The Zimbabweans, who benefited enormously from England forfeiting its match in Harare, had victories on the field over Namibia and Holland, and faced a must win situation when they met Pakistan for the last duel in Bulawayo.

The Pakistanis, after defeats at the hands of Australia, England and India, had a huge task before them. Even in the event of Waqar Younis' men bundling out Zimbabwe for 150, the Pakistanis had to get the runs in 12.1 overs.

And batting first, the Pakistanis, in case they reached 250, had to skittle out the Zimbabweans for 62 or less. The dice was loaded against Pakistan, considering the low morale in the side, following the crushing setback against India. The much publicised squabble between Younis Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq during a practice football match was indicative of a rift in the side. The task appeared well nigh impossible.

However, a simple victory for Pakistan would enable England to get through to the Super Sixes. This was also an emotional game for the Zimbabweans — Andy Flower no longer wanted in the country for taking on the establishment — had indicated that this would be his last duel for the country in case Zimbabwe lost.

It was clear that the weather would play a major part in this encounter, with a thick cloud cover in Bulawayo. So it was, the overs for each side being cut to 46, 44, and finally 36. Yet, only 14 overs of play was possible after the proceedings began 75 minutes late, subsequent interruptions not helping matters either.

When play was called off after 14 overs, Pakistan, after winning the toss, was 73 for three, experienced left-handed opener Saeed Anwar unbeaten on a fluent 45-ball 40. However, Salim Elahi fell leg-before to Douglas Hondo, Yousuf Youhana was caught behind off Heath Streak and Inzamam-ul-Haq, for whom this has been a miserable tournament on all counts, was undone by the part-time medium pace of Ervine.

Rain came down at this stage, and following a frustrating wait, the match was finally called off. The two points from the abandoned duel took Zimbabwe's tally to 14, well beyond England (12) and Pakistan (10).

The jubilant Zimbabweans lapped the ground to the cheers of those who had braved the rough weather to stay on. Said skipper Streak — "All the guys are elated to have got to the Super Sixes. It's so special because everyone has worked so hard ... we challenged the Australians really close when they played here and we are hopeful that we can prove to everyone that we deserve to be there.'' However, Zimbabwe carried with it just 3.5 points into the next stage.

Pakistan had a lot less to look forward to. The side's campaign met with a watery end. The miracle the side needed at Bulawayo, just did not happen.

The scores:

Pakistan: Saeed Anwar (not out) 40; Salim Elahi lbw b Hondo 4; Yousuf Youhana c Taibu b Streak 17; Inzamam-ul-Haq c Whittall b Ervine 3; Younis Khan (not out) 0; Extras: (b-1, lb-6, w-2) 9; Total (for three wickets in 14 overs) 73.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-55, 3-72.

Zimbabwe bowling: Streak 7-1-25-1, Hondo 4-0-22-1, Ervine 3-0-19-1.