New Zealand’s total of 273 appeared to be inadequate on a few occasions, particularly when Hamilton Masakadza was raining powerful blows, but the visitors eventually whipped up sufficient bowling ammo to snuff out Zimbabwe’s challenge and win their first ODI series after the World Cup. Sean Williams, with 63 off 62, took the game deep but once he holed out to deep midwicket in the 46th over, Zimbabwe were effectively down for the count.
After captain Kane Williamson had made 90 off 109 balls – his sixth consecutive fifty-plus score – to guide New Zealand’s innings, Zimbabwe’s fairly placid chase was scuppered by wickets at inopportune moments. It was Mitchell McClenaghan, who finished with three wickets, who triggered the first slide by dismissing Chamu Chibhabha after the batsman put on 97 runs for the opening wicket along with Masakadza.
Masakadza’s dismissal in the next over set Zimbabwe back further. The nature of his exit would particularly rankle the opener: he deposited a long hop from Williamson straight into deep midwicket’s palms. Zimbabwe continued to lose their wickets softly, as captain Elton Chigumbura drove legspinner Ish Sodhi straight to covers.
The home side’s hopes lifted again when Williams and Craig Ervine put on 45 runs for the fourth wicket. But, Ervine’s dismissal in the 33rd over when he backed up too far only for bowler Ben Wheeler to effect a direct hit sent Zimbabwe towards a freefall. Apart from some persistent hustling from McClenaghan and Wheeler, the spinners, Nathan McCullum and Sodhi, played a part in suffocating Zimbabwe.
After being inserted in the morning, New Zealand betrayed caution in the beginning – the tempo not dissimilar to that in the first ODI which was played on the same surface – rather than any attempt at smash-mouth stuff. Their first fifty runs, in fact, came off 76 balls – their second slowest in ODIs against Zimbabwe since 2001.
Guptill, who played out a maiden in the first over, ensured he accounted for Tinashe Panyangara’s difficult angles. Panyangara, like he has often done this series, bowled from wide of the crease, and was either getting the ball to stay the course or shape away. The breakthrough for Zimbabwe, however, came through offspinner John Nyumbu, playing his first game of the series, in the 10th over.
Williamson, though, came in and weaved substantial partnerships with Martin Guptill and Grant Elliott. Williamson had spoken at the toss about the difficulty of identifying a “good total”, and he ensured nothing was left to chance. Between the 11th and 41st overs, Williamson’s presence was the only constant even as the way he batted kept changing over the course of the innings.
During the early part of his 56-run association with Guptill, Williamson played a risk-averse game, not giving in to twitchy urges to score. But even then, he did not miss out on bashing loose deliveries, like in the 17th over when he carted Chibhabha over wide long on for six, and then, after three dot balls, slapped a back-foot punch uppishly between long off and sweeper cover.
Williamson was equally efficient against the spinners, using his feet to drill Nyumbu on the on side whenever the ball was tossed up. On other occasions, he shuffled across off stump to get inside the line of Nyumbu’s deliveries, most of which turned appreciably from outside off to middle or leg. Williamson, on 53, also enjoyed a reprieve in the 26th over when Regis Chakabva missed a stumping off Sikandar Raza’s bowling. It was at this point that Williamson was cranking up his scoring rate.
Legspinner Graeme Cremer, though, kept Williamson and Guptill guessing by melding slow flight with sharp turn. Guptill was excised by one such delivery that took his edge and was pouched at slip. Soon after, Colin Munro played across the line only for the leg-break to fizz through a big bat-pad gap.
Williamson, along with Grant Elliott, then added 70 runs in 13.1 overs to set New Zealand up for a strong finish, but their dismissals in successive overs nearly derailed the visitors. While Elliott was out sweeping to Cremer, his leading edge going only as far as short fine leg, Williamson was subdued in the 90s for the fourth time in his last six innings at long on where Ervine showed incredible presence of mind. Cremer and Nyumbu finished with 5 for 96 between them and stunted the visitors’ progress in the middle stages.
New Zealand’s scoring, however, received a leg-up through some late hitting from James Neesham, replacing an injured Ross Taylor in the XI, and Nathan McCullum, who raised 50 runs in 4.1 overs for an unbroken seventh-wicket stand. They pushed the visitors’ score beyond 260, as New Zealand muscled 54 runs in the last five overs. Those strikes proved decisive in the end.