West Indies level series in style
Embarrassed in the first match of the series on Friday, West Indies hit back with a convincing performance, showing far more intensity with the bat and in the field to beat Zimbabwe by 110 runs and level the five-match series. Put in to bat on a surface offering some early seam and swing, West Indies posted 286 - with handsome contributions from Runako Morton and Chris Gayle - and then took wickets at regular intervals to ensure that Zimbabwe were never in the hunt.
Friday's defeat was marked by utter listlessness in all aspects but today's display showed the loss had stung the team. The urgency was apparent from the start, and no one demonstrated it more than Morton, whose 94-ball 79 was in sharp contrast to his lacklustre half-century a couple of days back, when he pottered around and appeared clueless against the spinners.
Seeing his obvious discomfort against spin, the team management promoted him to No.3, dropping Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the centurion in that match, to No.4, and the move paid off handsomely. After Devon Smith's first-over dismissal, Gayle and Morton combined in a 120-run partnership that completely swung the initiative West Indies' way. Zimbabwe's slow bowlers kept the runs in check in the middle over, but Ravi Rampaul's late charge ensured 60 came off the last six, and a competitive total became a daunting one.
Zimbabwe were clearly up against a much-improved opposition but they were also let down by their own indiscipline - they'd only conceded four wides in the first game, but gave away 11 here, plus two no-balls. The start was excellent - only 19 came from the first eight overs - but as Morton and Gayle took charge, the bowling slowly wilted.
Morton began the onslaught, signalling his intent by creaming 14 from three balls in the tenth over -a four and a six off Gary Brent over mid-on, followed by a cut over point for another four. With the seamers operating, Morton was clearly more at ease, and launched expansive drives whenever the bowlers pitched it up, hitting through the line with flourish.
At the other end Gayle found his bearings after a slow start, and both Elton Chigumbura and Chamu Chibhabha felt the heat, clubbed for sixes over midwicket. Ray Price was pressed into service during the Powerplays as West Indies motored to 106 after 20 overs. The partnership finally came to an end when Gayle was stretchered off the field after tweaking his hamstring while attempting a run.
Chanderpaul's run-out soon after gave Zimbabwe some hope, but Marlon Samuels shut it off with a run-a-ball 43, ensuring the home team didn't get back into the game despite an excellent spell by Ray Price, who gave nothing away in a ten-over spell that cost just 39.
Rampaul's late charge, which included three successive sixes off Keith Dabengwa in the 48th over, gave West Indies the momentum going into the break, and they kept control over proceedings with a fine new-ball display. Neither Rampaul and Daren Powell gave away too many scoring opportunities, and with the asking rate mounting, the pressure told on the batsmen.
Brendon Taylor lashed at one and nicked to Denesh Ramdin after a promising 27 and Vusi Sibanda followed soon after, before Dwayne Bravo - deputising as captain for the injured Gayle - shut Zimbabwe out of the match with two wickets in the space of four overs. Hamilton Masakadza edged a drive, while Tatenda Taibu missed a cut and found his stumps knocked back. Zimbabwe were 65 for 5, the asking rate was more than seven, and the contest was effectively over. Stuart Matsikenyeri, Dabengwa and Prosper Utseya all got some batting practice, but the contest was over much before Ramdin held his fifth catch of the innings to give Rawl Lewis career-best figures of 3 for 43.