In a remarkable match at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo today, decided in the end by the Duckworth-Lewis (D/L) method due to rain, Zimbabwe edged West Indies by five runs to win a place in the Blue Mountain Achilleion Cup final against Sri Lanka on Sunday. When the Zimbabwe middle-order batsmen struggled against the West Indian spinners and slumped to 89 for seven wickets, any thought of victory for the team seemed ridiculous. But a magnificent ninth-wicket partnership of 91 between Sikandar Raza and Tendai Chisoro took Zimbabwe past 200, and the West Indies in turn collapsed to the Zimbabwe spinners. Rain came at a critical time and the calculations awarded Zimbabwe a narrow victory, against all earlier expectations. It was a dry morning in Bulawayo, though mostly cloudy and with the chance of rain.

The pitch this time was dry and with little grass, helping the spinners rather than the seamers. Zimbabwe won the toss and decided to bat on it first. Zimbabwe dropped Elton Chigumbura, the man who for years has been their most dangerous one-day player, and restored Hamilton Masakadza to the team. Both Chamu Chibhabha and Sean Williams were playing in their 100th one-day internationals.

Brian Chari and Chibhabha opened the innings to the bowling of Miguel Cummins, another fast bowler replacing the injured Shannon Gabriel, and Jason Holder. With the last ball of the fourth over Holder struck, producing a fast inswinging yorker that spreadeagled Chibhabha s stumps for nine; 18 for one. In the following over Chari had a life, as he slashed a ball low into the covers, but the fielder was unable to hold a difficult chance.

Masakadza got off to a good start, thanks to a disastrous over from Cummins, who bowled two no-balls and a wide, while Masakadza helped himself to 10 runs. After 11 overs, though, a steady drizzle started and the teams were forced to leave the field. At this point Zimbabwe had 48 for one wicket, with Chari on 13 and Masakadza 20. About an hour s play was lost, and under the regulations existing the match was reduced from a 50-over game to one of 49 overs.

The break was to wreck the Zimbabwe innings; or rather, it was the inability of the Zimbabwe batsmen to cope with it. Chari and Masakadza had to settle in again, and Masakadza did not with the third ball of the new session he drove over the top of a full-length ball from the leg-spin, Devendra Bishoo, off stump, for his 20.

Chari reached 19 and then tried to pull a short ball from Bishoo, only to find it skidded on and bowled him; 59 for three in the 18th over.

Craig Ervine did not last long, playing down the wrong line to the off-spinner Ashley Nurse and being dismissed lbw for seven; 63 for four. Sean Williams then edged his second ball, from Nurse, to the keeper as he prodded outside his off stump, and Zimbabwe were now facing disaster at 63 for five.

Raza and PJ Moor began their innings like novices against the spinners, until Moor took a gamble and hammered a ball from Nurse for six over midwicket. Moor continued to attack, but paid the penalty when he tried to slash a straight ball from Nurse through the off-side field, and was comprehensively bowled for 13; 86 for six.

Graeme Cremer (one) was next to throw his wicket away with a poorly judged stroke, trying to pull a quicker ball from Bishoo that bowled him just as decisively as Moor; 89 for seven. Five wickets had gone down in nine overs for only 30 runs, as the Zimbabwe batsmen seemed totally unprepared mentally and technically to play the spinning ball.

Raza and Donald Tiripano began to play with more sense, and took the score past 100 in the 30th over. They were helped when the spinners completed their allocation of 10 overs each and West Indies had to return to their seamers.

The batsmen took the score to 127 before, in the 37th over, Tiripano (15) tried to pull a bouncer from Holder and skied a catch to the keeper. Chisoro, often underrated as a batsman, quickly nudged two fours and 150 came up in the 41st over. Three overs later Raza reached his invaluable fifty, which took him 85 balls.

By now the two batsmen were on top of the West Indian seamers, and the last two overs of the innings brought them 29 runs.

Zimbabwe finished with 218 for eight wickets, with Raza on 76 off 103 balls and Chisoro 42 off 35 balls their partnership of 91 beat the previous ninth-wicket record for Zimbabwe in ODIs, set last year against New Zealand by Raza himself and Tinashe Panyangara.

Raza played an uncharacteristic innings in that he hit only three fours, only one of which came before he reached 50.He wisely concentrated on scoring in ones and twos, rather than taking the risk of attempting boundaries, while Chisoro too was careful at first before hitting two sixes over the square-leg boundary in the last two overs.

The West Indians must certainly have regretted only having two spinners, as Bishoo and Nurse took three for 30 and three for 27 respectively off their 10 overs, while the best of the seamers was Holder with two for 58. Cremer wisely decided to open the Zimbabwe bowling with spin, though the choice of Raza opposite Chisoro instead of himself was a surprise.

After a single by Evin Lewis, Johnson Charles chipped the first ball he faced back to Chisoro and Zimbabwe had made an early strike. In his next over Chisoro beat Lewis s bat and trapped him lbw for nine, and West Indies were 12 for two.

The umpire was Jerry Matibiri, and although Lewis challenged the decision the DRS proved the umpire correct, as it has done before. It is pleasing to know that Zimbabwe has three good international umpires in Russell Tiffin, Langton Rusere and Matibiri. Chisoro gave Shai Hope a hard time when he arrived at the crease, getting both spin and bounce.

Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite decided to counter-attack, and they hit Chisoro for three fours in an over, causing him to lose his length and bowl too short and fast. Hope, however, drove loosely at a ball from Williams, but edged it to slip in the 10th over; he made 14, and the score was 35 for three.

Cremer brought himself on for the 11th over, the fourth spin bowler used. Another reason for the exclusive use of spin was that the weather was again threatening, and the Zimbabweans were afraid the rain might come before the 20-over mark that is necessary to calculate a result was reached.

At 70 the batsmen attempted a quick single and Brathwaite, probably the main danger man left, was superbly run out by Ervine, who scored a direct hit on the stumps; he made 24 and this was the 18th over.

Play was still possible after the 20th over, and West Indies were 84 for four. In the 23rd over Jonathan Carter edged a ball from Williams, but it was dropped by Moor, the wicketkeeper.

Fortunately Williams struck later in the over, as Rovman Powell (six) tried to drive a six off Williams, but he skied a catch, and West Indies were 93 for five in the 23rd over. Chris Mpofu, however, bowled a disastrous over and Holder hit him for three fours.

Zimbabwe were still a few runs ahead on Duckworth-Lewis, but West Indies were by no means out of the match yet. There was a slight drizzle all the time now, which made it difficult for Zimbabwe s spinners. The rain grew heavily and the umpires suspended play after 27.3 overs.

West Indies were 124 for five at this stage, five runs behind on Duckworth-Lewis; Carter had 43 and Holder 22. It was never possible to resume play, and so Zimbabwe were awarded one of their most remarkable victories. The spinners Chisoro and Williams took two cheap wickets each and played the major part in the West Indian batting failure.

So Zimbabwe will meet Sri Lanka in the final at the same venue on Sunday weather permitting. One must sympathise with the West Indies, however, who began their tour so well with an outstanding victory against Sri Lanka, but then tied a match against Zimbabwe they were well placed to win, and finally suffered two narrow defeats, by one and five runs respectively.

Zimbabwe 218 for 8 in 49 overs (Sikandar Raza 76*, Tendai Chisoro 42*; Ashley Nurse 3/27, Devendra Bishoo 3/30, Jason Holder 2/58)

West Indies 124/5 for 5 in 27.3 overs (Jonathan Carter 43*, Kraigg Brathwaite 24; Sean Williams 2/18, Tendai Chisoro 2/23)

Zimbabwe won by five runs (Duckworth-Lewis method)