When a team piles up a 300-plus score in an ODI match, it acquires a winning edge in most cases. The side liked New Zealand, which had a thunderous show in the 2015 World Cup down under; did not see a threat at least from Zimbabwe even if they didn’t have the advantage of playing at home. Forceful batting by Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson ensured that Zimbabwe faced a victory target of 304 at the Harare Sports Club on Sunday. Though New Zealand lost their openers Martin Guptill and Tom Latham cheaply, Williamson and Taylor came up with a 137-run third wicket stand and when Williamson got out Taylor found Grant Elliott to add another 79 for the fourth wicket. New Zealand added another 48 in the last four overs and Taylor remained unbeaten on a 122-ball 112. But Zimbabwe proved equal to the task of putting up a solid 74-run opening stand before Craig Ervine took the command. The Zimbabwean was murderous in his treatment of the Kiwi bowlers and he stole the match from them with a bludgeoning knock of 130 off 108 balls. In the end, the home side ran away with a 7-wicket over the shell-shocked visitors.
Fresh from their recent 0-3 loss against India in the 3-match ODI series, Zimbabwe looked a poor second to the visiting New Zealanders on paper. But shorter formats of cricket can, sometimes, be decided on the strength of a single individual performance. When Elton Chigumbura won the toss, he asked New Zealand to bat first. It looked a good decision as Zimbabwe removed both Martin Guptill and Tom Latham by the 9th over with just 39 on the board. But skipper Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor were not cowed down by the early loss of the openers. They settled into a rhythm after a slow start and began dictating terms to the Zimbabwe bowlers. From the 9th over, they carried their partnership until the 37th, during which Williamson completed his fifth consecutive fifty-plus score. Just when a three-figure mark loomed in the horizon, Williamson was bowled by Panyangara’s innocuous delivery. The Kiwi captain shaped for a dab down the leg side but ended up sending the ball to the stumps. But the 137-run third-wicket partnership in 27.4 overs between Williamson and Ross Taylor was a great foundation for New Zealand’s final total. After Williamson’s departure, Taylor hung on to fork out two more partnerships. Added to that, was a late burst from Grant Elliott, who hammered 43 off 32, which produced 115 in the last 10 overs of the innings. Taylor scored an unbeaten 112 off 122 balls with 6 fours and 3 sixes and New Zealand ended their 50 overs with 303/4.
When New Zealand took to the field, they couldn’t have conjured the defeat as Zimbabwe batsmen came on to chase 304. Although chasing 300-plus is not considered difficult these days, Zimbabwe have not shown that instinct in recent history. But each day is different and if something was not done yesterday, it doesn’t mean it cannot be done today. Zimbabwe openers Hamilton Masakadza and Chamu Chibhabha played superbly and put up a 74-run first wicket stand inside 15 overs. When Chibhabha got out, Masakadza was joined by Craig Ervine. While Masakadza went on with his steady rhythm to score 84 off 99 balls, Ervine had already assumed command with his hard-hitting stance. From 194/2 to the score jumped to 260/3, when Elton Chigumbura fell after scoring 26 off 31 balls. Zimbabwe didn’t lose any further wicket as Ervine carried the responsibility on his own shoulders. The unbroken fourth-wicket stand produced 48 runs, in which Sean Williams scored just 7. That shows Ervine’s command in the match as he led his side to a 7-wicket victory with 6 balls still remaining in the match. In Ervine’s personal contribution of 130, there were 11 fours and 5 sixes.