Craig Ervine and Sean Williams helped Zimbabwe avoid embarrassment by adding 106 for the fifth-wicket to guide their side to a tense four-wicket win over the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE overcame a cautious start to make 285 for seven from their 50 overs after being inserted by Elton Chigumbura. Zimbabwe's opening pair of Sikandar Raza and Regis Chakabva made a strong start to the run chase by putting on 64, with Raza dominating the scoring in making 46 before being dismissed off Mohammad Tauqir.
Zimbabwe then lost more wickets. Hamilton Maskadza was trapped in front by Amjad Javed for one, Chakabva trod on his stumps to make it 112 for three, Brendan Taylor's typically fluent innings came to an end at 47, and hard-hitting all-rounder Solomon Mire was caught behind for nine to leave the favourites five wickets down with 142 runs still needed.
Experience ultimately decided things, with Williams and Ervine compiling the pivotal partnership in good time: taking little more than 12 overs to transform the game in Zimbabwe's favour. Ervine was caught and bowled for 42 off 32 balls with the winning line in sight, but Chigumbura joined Williams and victory was completed at the end of the 48th over. Left-hander Williams wrapped up proceedings with a classy straight drive to finish on 76 off 65 deliveries.
Earlier in the day, Mohammad Tauqir* had made a piece of history by becoming the oldest world cup captain ever at the age of 43.
His side made a slow start against Zimbabwe's new-ball attack of Tinashe Panyangara and Tendai Chatara. Chatara endured particular frustration and looked like he would receive precious little reward for an excellent spell during which he extracted good bounce from an otherwise flat pitch. He had Andri Berenger dropped with his first delivery by Brendan Taylor, then dismissed said batsman before he received a last-minute reprieve as Chatara had overstepped. Finally he got the first breakthrough when the other opener Amjad Ali drove loosely to Ervine behind the wicket.
Berenger was soon caught behind by Taylor off the powerfully-built and impressive Mire, with the evergreen Khurram Khan then joining Krishna Chandran to rebuild the innings. Khurram almost immediately showed his class with a crop of boundaries; the pick of which was a beautifully timed cover drive which raced across the lightning-quick Saxton Oval outfield.
The loss of both men in relatively quick succession, however, threatened to derail the UAE as the score read 134 for four in the 31st over. Swapnil Patil and Shaiman Anwar, though, demonstrated that their side was in no way overly dependent on their skipper and if anything looked even more at home at the crease. 82 was added before Patil was caught off the ever-economical Williams for 32, but Anwar breezed past 50. His fall for 67 off 50 balls following that of new batsman Rohan Mustafa again threatened to stall the UAE's progress, but Zimbabwe's death bowling proved a problem once again.
Whilst not imploding on anywhere close to the scale that they had against South Africa in their World Cup opener, they did allow all-rounders Amjad Javed and Mohammad Naveed to hit three sixes in the final six overs and put on 53 runs to finish strongly.
The small but good-natured crowd in Nelson were thus rewarded with a good game that would ultimately end with Zimbabwe getting a much-needed win under their new coach Dav Whatmore, but the UAE again exposed the ICC's folly in reducing the 2019 event to just 10 teams.
*This article was amended on 20/2/15 to correct the fact that it was Mohammad Tauqir and not Khurram Khan who had become the oldest World Cup captain.
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