Taylor’s outstanding fighting century was in vain, although at least it did prolong the match and saved Zimbabwe from what could have been a low total.
Zimbabwe welcomed back Vusi Sibanda and Tatenda Taibu to the team – while New Zealand were without Jake Oram due to illness. Zimbabwe’s decision to bat on winning the toss caused some comment, given the fact that the team batting second at Harare Sports Club has a much better victory record than those going in first. In good sunny weather on a shaven pitch, it would have been a fair enough decision, as long as the batsmen were mentally up to it.
The first two overs quickly showed that Zimbabwe’s top order was not mentally attuned to the task this time. They seemed incapable of handling very accurate bowling that included many deliveries outside the off stump, which the batsmen could choose either to attempt to score from or to leave. The preference was for leaving, which Chamu Chibhabha and Sibanda did to excess, with the result that the batting stagnated. At one stage the score was 7 for two wickets after six overs; when Taibu lashed a ball to extra cover with faulty footwork, to be brilliantly caught by Kyle Williamson, the score was 21 for four off 11 overs. Doug Bracewell had three of them very cheaply.
Zimbabwe managed to find two men who responded to the crisis magnificently in partnership. Brendan Taylor, perhaps aware of his need to put right his decision at the toss, was the first batsman to show initiative and the ability to handle the situation, and he began to get the score moving through some good shot selection and running. He found the ideal partner in Forster Mutizwa. He settled in to play with calmness and skill, and in a remarkably short time the whole aspect of the game had changed and the batsmen were in control.
As the runs flowed at about five an over, the first cracks began to show in the hitherto almost faultless tourists. Taylor was dropped twice in quick succession, a return catch to McCullum when on 48 and at long-off at 52, the ball bursting through the fielder’s hands and going for six. The only other fault of the pair was the lack of good running at times, partly because Mutizwa tended to be very cautious. The stand finally came to an end when Mutizwa, with 69 off 98 balls, reached for a wide half-volley from James Franklin and edged it to the keeper. The pair had put on 152 in 31 overs and, apart from the sheer number of runs, the way they saved a disastrous situation makes this one of finest partnerships in international cricket. Sadly, it was to be in vain.
Taylor soon lost Elton Chigumbura, but he went on the reach his fifth ODI century off 108 balls in the 47th over; this one competes with that against South Africa for his best. He then felt free to go for his strokes; Bracewell, seemingly invincible at the start of the innings, went for three sixes in four balls, 21 off this the penultimate over. He finished with an unbeaten 128 off 120 deliveries, with seven fours and five sixes. The total was 231 for six, an amazing turnaround from 21 for four. Bracewell still finished with the best figures of three for 55.
Rob Nicol this time opened the New Zealand innings with Martin Guptill, rather than Brendon McCullum, but the product was the same – free strokes and swift run-scoring. They took 51 off the first six overs, mainly from Kyle Jarvis, who kept straying to leg and paid the penalty; his six eventual overs cost 59 runs. In fact none of Zimbabwe’s seamers bowled particularly well, unable to put any pressure on the batsmen by consistent line and length, and the batsmen climbed in to capitalise. This was the third successive century opening partnership in three matches by New Zealand against Zimbabwe, and it proved to be the highest, ending only on 153 when Guptill failed to clear the long-on boundary and was caught there for 74 – off the occasional medium-pace of Masakadza, who thus took more wickets in the match than he scored runs.
Brendon McCullum was hardly the man Zimbabwe wanted to see coming in next, and once again he was in prime form. The next landmark was recorded by Nicol, who achieved the rare feat of a century in his first ODI. This follows his century for Mashonaland Eagles against Mid-West Rhinos in Kwekwe last Saturday. As victory approached the scoring rate dropped, as Nicol became very cautious on the verge of his century and McCullum tried to give him the strike and support to help him over the line. Finally he swung a ball from Mpofu over midwicket to reach the landmark, and from there New Zealand sped to victory with almost seven overs to spare. Nicol was unbeaten with 108, McCullum with 39.