Late batting heroics by experienced all-rounder Shauna Kavanagh wasn’t enough to stave off defeat to Zimbabwe in the first of three 50-over matches in Harare, as part of the Ireland Women’s 2018 tour of Zimbabwe.

Coming to the wicket with the Ireland team precariously poised at 30-3, the Pembroke top-order batter Kavanagh first steadied the ship with captain Mary Waldron (22), then went on to remain unbeaten on 79 from 118 balls (5 fours, 5 sixes).

Kavanagh’s innings also saw her feature in an unbroken eighth-wicket partnership of 74 in just 68 balls with debutant Cara Murray – this vital partnership rescued Ireland from 99-7 to finish on a respectable 173-7.

Kavanagh’s innings also finished with a flourish, delighting spectators and team-mates by dispatching Zimbabwe’s opening bowler Nomvelo Sibanda over the boundary three times in the last four balls of the innings.

Chasing 174 for victory, the host’s innings was interrupted by heavy showers later in the day, and an adjusted run chase was established, with Zimbabwe set a total of 140 from a maximum of 33 overs.

The Zimbabweans reached the target in 26 overs, bolstered by a solid 93-run stand between the 21-year old opener Modester Mupachikwa (40) and captain Chipo Mugeri (64*).

Kavanagh reflected after the game the bittersweet feeling of personal achievement as part of a team loss:

"I was struggling early on but I just knew I had to graft it out – the team was 30-3 at one stage," she said. "But the rain break did a world of good and after a little bit of reflection I came out with a better mindset."

At the start of the day the Ireland selectors had announced a squad with a mix of experience and youth that featured three debutants – Anna Kerrison, Cara Murray and Vanessa Kelada.

The match was also the first international for the squad since last summer, so despite some expected rustiness, the team took away a number of positives and posted a competitive total, which bodes well for the next two matches in the series.

The two teams now have a rest day tomorrow before meeting again in the second 50-over match on Saturday.

ZIMBABWE WOMEN v IRELAND WOMEN, 1st 50-over match, Country Club, Harare

Ireland Women 173-7 (50 overs; S Kavanagh 79*, M Waldron 22; P Marange 2-21)

Zimbabwe Women 140-3 (26 overs; C Mugeri 64*, M Mupachikwa 40; S MacMahon 2-12)

Zimbabwe Women beat Ireland Women by 7 wickets (DLS Method).