Taibu ton saves face in defeat
South Africa 295 for 5 (Amla 80, de Villiers 51, Morkel 50*, Price 3-44) beat Zimbabwe 250 for 5 (Taibu 103*, Matsikenyeri 86, McLaren 3-51) by 45 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
South Africa began their season with a 45-run victory over neighbours, Zimbabwe, at Benoni yet were left with plenty to ponder after a battling century from Tatenda Taibu in a record sixth-wicket stand of 188. The game was done as a contest when Zimbabwe fell to 48 for 5, but Taibu and Stuart Matsikenyeri refused to roll over and plundered the home attack with Taibu reaching his second ODI hundred in the final over.
In their first outing since making an early exit from the Champions Trophy, South Africa's reshaped batting unit produced a solid effort as they piled up 295 for 5 after Hashim Amla top-scored with 80 alongside a fluent run-a-ball 51 from AB de Villiers and a powerful 39-ball fifty by Albie Morkel. With Ryan McLaren striking twice on debut and Dale Steyn claiming two in four balls the game was heading for swift end, but South Africa lost their intensity.
Taibu and Matsikenyeri exposed the bowling attack with Zimbabwe's highest sixth-wicket stand and their second largest partnership in ODIs. South Africa's bowling was a concern for them during the Champions Trophy and this performance will have done little to alleviate those worries ahead of the England series.
Wayne Parnell's return can't come soon enough with Dale Steyn still appearing short of a gallop. Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Charl Langeveldt are vying for spots against England, but neither made an outstanding case in this outing while, despite a lively innings, Morkel continued to look unthreatening with the ball at this level.
After struggling with the bat in Bangladesh - and slumping for an embarrassing 44 all out on one occasion - Zimbabwe will take great heart from their fighting effort and it could well encourage a shuffle of the order for the next game with Taibu and Matsikenyeri both making strong cases for promotion.
Unlike the bowlers, South Africa's batsmen appeared in reasonable fettle. There was a hint of early-season rustiness about some of the top-order dismissals as deep fielders were picked out, but it meant that others benefited from time in the middle. The finish to the innings will have pleased Mickey Arthur and Graeme Smith as Morkel exploited the batting Powerplay alongside the recalled Alvrio Petersen to the tune of 58 runs.
After Smith had picked out deep midwicket, Amla and de Villiers both moved along comfortably against the slow bowlers in significant innings for the second-wicket pair. Amla is currently Kallis' understudy alongside Smith and is expected to make way against England so runs here makes the selectors' job a little harder.
de Villiers, meanwhile, has been moved up the order to No. 3, with Arthur wanting to give him more time to build an innings and improve on a slightly disappointing return of three centuries in 89 ODIs. He certainly had time today to register hundred No. 4, moving effortlessly to a 48-ball half-century, before picking out long-off where Mark Vermeulen held a well-judged catch. Amla was set to bat through the innings when, much to his disgust, he deposited a long hop from Graeme Cremer down deep midwicket, and three overs later Mark Boucher's laboured effort ended with a miscued drive to long-off.
Morkel gave himself a few overs to settle then the Powerplay was taken. The first two over went for just five each, but then the boundaries started to flow with the next three costing 48. Morkel collected three sixes, including a tracer-bullet blow flat over long-on during his second ODI half-century to go alongside the 97 he made in the previous meeting between these two sides. Petersen, playing his first ODI since March 2008, supported well with a sprightly effort in a stand worth 86 from 10 overs.
Having struggled on the slow, low pitches of Bangladesh, it was little surprise that Zimbabwe slumped and the top order was soon in tatters. Vermeulen picked out mid off and McLaren made an almost immediate impact with the ball as he trapped Chibhabha leg before with his third delivery. McLaren soon had his second courtesy of a fine, low catch by Boucher to his right and Steyn collected two in four balls as his pace prove too much for Hamilton Masakadza and Elton Chigumbura.
Then came the unexpected reply from Zimbabwe's middle order as South Africa were made to toil. Taibu, who swung a six off Tsotsobe, reached fifty off 71 balls and Matsikenyeri took 68 balls as he climbed into Johan Botha with a over costing 16. McLaren also came in for some punishment as his ninth over cost 17 and although it was all academic in terms of the result South Africa left the fielding knowing there is plenty of room for improvement.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo