Only Test

Zimbabwe v New Zealand in Zimbabwe, 2011-12

At Bulawayo, November 1-5, 2011. New Zealand won by 34 runs. Toss: New Zealand. Test debuts: R. W. Chakabva, N. Ncube, M. N. Waller; D. A. J. Bracewell, D. G. Brownlie.

New Zealand celebrate their victory, Zimbabwe v New Zealand, only Test, Bulawayo, 5th day, November 5, 2011
New Zealand team pose with the trophy © AFP
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Few outside the Zimbabwe dressing-room gave them a chance of victory when, set 366, they began the final day on 61 for two. Even inside it, some were not convinced. "If somebody plays the innings of a lifetime, then who knows?" said Grant Flower, their batting coach. "But our best hope is probably to save the game." As it happened, captain Brendan Taylor did play the Test innings of his life and, for a long time, it seemed possible - even probable - that Zimbabwe would secure one of the most unlikely victories of recent history. That they failed to come away with a draw felt cruel in the circumstances.

Taylor made 73 in the morning session with a subtle yet brutal mix of attack and defence, whacking four leg-side sixes - three of them in ten balls off Patel's off-spin - in between periods of clever accumulation. After dominating the opening exchanges, and leading his team to 169 for three at lunch, he allowed Taibu to take charge in the afternoon as Zimbabwe added a further 96. Taylor moved to his second Test hundred - his country's first in the fourth innings of a Test since Kevin Arnott's unbeaten 101 against New Zealand at Bulawayo in 1992-93. At tea, with seven wickets in hand, they needed 101.

Moments before the interval, Watling had claimed a catch at deep point from Taylor's sliced drive off Martin (who earlier in the match had become the fourth New Zealander to take 200 Test wickets, when he dismissed Jarvis), but it was ruled not out by third umpire Jeremiah Matibiri. The decision - understandable from television evidence, if not from cricketing logic - created a thunderstorm of friction. Two balls after the break, Taylor carved a Martin long-hop to the same fielder in the same position; this time it was clearly held a foot above the ground. New Zealand celebrated with vengeful anger rather than a belief it was the turning-point. But it proved to be just that.

Vettori, who had taken his 350th Test wicket in the first innings in the course of his 20th five-wicket haul, removed the pugnacious Taibu, then watched while debutant seamer Doug Bracewell struck three times in four overs as Zimbabwe descended into confusion about whether they were chasing victory or playing for the draw. However, when Njabulo Ncube - another debutant, and a decent slogger with little defensive ability - was pushed up to No. 8 and slapped Vettori over midwicket for six, the chase was alive again. Amid it all, Vettori refused to allow the thrill of the climax to cloud his ethics. When, with New Zealand still searching for five wickets, he accidentally got in the way of Malcolm Waller, leaving Regis Chakabva stranded as the batsmen attempted a quick single, Vettori sportingly withdrew the run-out appeal. He then returned to trap last man Mpofu and clinch a nail-biting victory with 35 balls to spare.

The match never promised such drama while Guptill - who grafted to his second Test hundred - and Ross Taylor, in his first Test in charge (and the first in which both captains shared the same surname), were adding 132 for the third wicket on the opening day. But the Zimbabweans were like hungry terriers, and refused to stop snapping at ankles: New Zealand's eventual 426, which included Test-best figures for Mpofu, was just about manageable.

Sibanda played beautifully in reply, while Waller passed fifty on Test debut, as his father Andy had done, also at Bulawayo, against England in 1996-97. But for the guile of Vettori, Zimbabwe would have made more than 313. New Zealand's attempts to set an appropriate target were hampered by Jarvis's first Test five-for and a prolonged spell of defensive left-arm spin from Price but, when they eventually pulled out with 366 to defend in 114 overs, they had just about managed to strike the balance between making the game safe and leaving themselves enough time for victory.

History will record they got it right. But the reality was less clear-cut: New Zealand came perilously near to a defeat that could have been devastating - and Zimbabwe, who achieved their highest fourth-innings total, came agonisingly close to a victory that would have provided an untold boost to the sport in the lowliest of the Test nations.

Man of the Match: D. L. Vettori.

© John Wisden & Co.