The Africans’ four-wicket win at Nelson’s Saxton Oval came with 12 balls to spare and was set up by an 83-run sixth wicket partnership between Sean Williams and Craig Ervine.
Williams, the man-of-the-match, finished on 76 not out.
But until the Zimbabwe middle-order duo’s rescue mission the amateurs from UAE, led by a banker and an airline purser — both aged 43 — had threatened a huge upset.
After being sent into bat, the weekend warriors posted a UAE all-time record one-day international total of 285 for seven and then reduced the Test-playing Zimbabweans to 167 for five in the 33rd over.
But they were unable to maintain the pressure, allowing Zimbabwe to slip away with Williams hitting a boundary to end the closest match in the tournament so far.
It gave Zimbabwe their first win from two games in Pool B, but they looked a shadow of the side that impressed when losing to heavyweights South Africa by 62 runs in their tournament opener.
They were expected to bounce back with a morale-boosting win over the least experienced side in the tournament.
Instead the gritty amateurs from the Middle East pushed Zimbabwe all the way.
Sikandar Raza and Regis Chakabva made a cautious start to Zimbabwe’s reply, getting through to 64 before UAE skipper and banker Mohammad Tauqir made the breakthrough with Raza’s wicket for 46.
The next four wickets fell at regular intervals.
Zimbabwe’s batting rock, Hamilton Masakadza went for one, hit on the back pad in front of middle stump and Chakabva, on 35, was out hit wicket when he slipped playing back to a Tauqir delivery and his foot slipped into the stumps.
Brendan Taylor made 47 and Solomon Mire contributed nine to have Zimbabwe 167 for five before Williams and Ervine combined to all but prevent a shock loss.
Following Ervine’s removal with the score at 250, Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura partnered Williams through to the end.
As Zimbabwe celebrated the win, the UAE — a team that survives on a limited diet of international matches — revelled in their finest cricket performance.
Their total of 285 pipped their previous highest ODI score of 282 set against Afghanistan last year and easily bettered their previous best against a Test nation of 204 against Bangladesh in 2008.
Airline purser and vice-captain Khurram Khan made 45 with the bat, steadying the UAE innings after going to the middle at 40 for two.
The 35-year-old Shaiman Anwar bolstered the innings with his personal best of 67 coming from 50 balls in only his eighth international.
His partnership of 82 with Swapnil Patil (32) was a UAE record for the fifth wicket.
At the tail, Amjad Javed (25 not out) and Mohammad Naveed (23 not ) both posted their highest scores and their unbeaten eighth-wicket partnership of 53 was also a UAE record.
Tendai Chatara was the chief wicket-taker for Zimbabwe with three for 42.