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Ian Callender

There is literally nothing between a weak Test nation and the leading Associate. That much was proven last night after an unbelievable finish with Ireland and Zimbabwe producing only the third tie in World Cup history at Sabina Park.

Jeremy Bray's undefeated century was a memorable highlight for the new boys and only his teammates failure to stay with him for any length of time cost Ireland a chance of marking their debut with a historic victory. The total of 221-9, (Ireland have never failed to reach 200 and has still to be bowled out in an ODI), was respectable enough, after losing the toss and being asked to bat on a greenish wicket with early moisture but unless Ireland made early inroads into the Zimbabwe batting it should not have been a defendable total. However, Andrew White, entrusted with the last over when Zimbabwe, with their last pair at the wicket, needed nine to win, restricted them to eight and sparked delirious scenes at the finish. Who says only winning matters!

Ireland pride themselves on their fielding but in a nervous first few overs Kyle McCallan let a ball slip through his legs and over the boundary and Andrew White also fumbled before a remarkable over by Derbyshire's Boyd Rankin. The first ball was edged by Terence Duffin to Niall O'Brien's left. Although the keeper had to dive to reach the ball his gloves made contact but he, somehow, failed to hold on. Two deliveries later, Duffin flashed straight to Eoin Morgan at second slip and the Middlesex man not only spilled that but failed to pick up what looked like a straightforward rebound. Still there was time for Rankin to get the wicket he deserved. Another away swinger, another edge and this time O'Brien didn't miss. That made it 26-1 after six overs. David Langford-Smith, so impressive in last week's warmup games, again bowled well but without luck and Rankin's wicket-taking over was to prove his best. His next over went for 14 and when seven more came off his fifth over, Andre Botha replaced him at the Pavilion end. Botha was his usual accurate self but the wickets that were needed were not forthcoming and when Trent Johnston drew a blank in his first three overs, the writing was on the wall for Ireland.

This team, however, are made of sterner stuff these days and when the captain had Chibhabha caught at mid-off and McCallan, doing what he does best, had the dangerous Sean Williams caught at mid-on, Zimbabwe were suddenly 107-3. It should have been 107-4 two balls later because McCallan fumbled a return from Johnstone with Stuart Matsikenyeri, yet to face, out of his ground. It was to prove the most costly of too many fielding lapses. Zimbabwe's most experienced player finished 73 not out. The only thing he didn't do was hit the winning run.

There was no disgrace in the Ireland batting and, indeed, Bray's bat produced an innings which will be better than many centuries in this tournament. His patience while wickets fell around him, at one stage Ireland were 89-5, was supreme and, knowing he had to stay there, was content to pick up 18 successive singles after reaching his 50 from 64 balls with five fours and two sixes, the first six in only the fifth over, flat-batted through point and the second, eight overs later, sliced over the slips. Andrew White, preferred to John Mooney for the final place in the starting team, was sent in at number seven and remained with Bray for 16 overs. They added only 56 runs, White scoring exactly half, against tidy spin bowling but it gave Ireland breathing space to launch a late onslaught. Although White carelessly swung across the line, Johnston was the perfect batsmen to take the attack to the Zimbabweans and after 20 from 24 balls was ready to move up a gear. Then, confusion between the batsmen, led to Johnston being sent back and the captain was 2 yards short when the bails came off.

His dismissal was probably the difference between a total of 220 and a total of 250 and he was just the latest batsmen to get set and then, disappointingly, get out. There was no blame attached to William Porterfield who failed to survive the first over, nervously edging the last ball to the keeper, but Eoin Morgan had just hit four boundaries when he flashed at a wide one and was caught at slip. Both Niall O'Brien and Andre Botha, bowled offering no stroke, were out early and by that stage Bray knew the rest of the innings was up to him. He did not disappoint but, after losing Kyle McCallan when he was still nine short of his century, the opening batsman was still hugely grateful to his fellow Australian Dave Langford-Smith. The pace man not only saw Bray to his second ODI century, off 129 balls with 10 fours and two sixes, but then scored 15 himself at almost a run a ball to ensure Ireland scored 20 off the final two overs.

It was enough to avoid defeat but not to achieve the most famous of victories.