Ervine ton lifts Zimbabwe to stirring win
Zimbabwe 304 for 3 (Ervine 130*, Masakadza 84) beat New Zealand 303 for 4 (Taylor 112*, Williamson 97, Panyangara 2-50) by seven wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Coming into their first ODI against New Zealand in over three years, Zimbabwe had won two of their previous 25 completed one-dayers. At the halfway stage in Harare, after Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson had helped pile up 303, it looked like they might add to that list of losses, but they came out fighting and it paid off. Hamilton Masakadza laid the foundation with 84, before Craig Ervine counter-punched with an unbeaten innings of 130 off 108 that allowed the hosts to gun down the target with relative ease. Victory was sealed in rather anti-climatic fashion, Nathan McCullum delivering a wide with Zimbabwe needing one off six balls.
That the chase came down to such a canter was courtesy some superb hitting from Ervine. With 34 required off 18 balls, he cracked Matt Henry for a brace of fours and a six to bring the margin down to 16 off 12, and then all but secured victory by hitting James Neesham for an outrageous four - dragged from well outside off to deep square leg with a cross between a sweep and a flick - and a six in the penultimate over.
Zimbabwe's innings was marked by sturdy partnerships right from the start. Their openers, Masakadza and Chamu Chibhabha, not only gave them a strong base but also displayed some positive batsmanship. Both batsmen produced crisp drives on either side of the wicket, mostly off the front foot. It wasn't until the 15th over - Williamson had deployed five of his bowlers by then - that they were separated. Chibhabha was out for 42 off 48 balls to end the 74-run stand after a Nathan McCullum delivery turned sharply to elude his drive. New Zealand might have hoped that the breakthrough would slow things down, but Ervine's arrival only strengthened the home side's response.
Masakadza and Ervine were involved in a quality tussle with the spinners, offspinner McCullum and debutant legspinner Ish Sodhi. They swept compulsively and effectively, forcing Williamson's hand on more than one occasion. He went back to Mitchell McClenaghan and Henry, and also Grant Elliott, but on a largely placid surface the batsmen had the answers. While Masakadza used brute force to pull the spinners, Ervine was getting better at his paddle-sweeps. They would swap strokes as well to further frustrate the visitors.
But McCullum struck again to dismiss Masakadza for a 99-ball 84 in the 35th over. The Masakadza-Ervine stand had produced 120 runs in 121 balls. Once again New Zealand sensed an opening. Once again Zimbabwe blunted their hopes through a 66-run partnership between Ervine and captain Elton Chigumbura - this one at just over a run a ball. Chigumbura became McCullum's third victim, but Ervine ensured there would be no slip ups.
Zimbabwe's icy-calm pursuit laid waste to some fine batsmanship from New Zealand - playing as Aotearoa to mark Maori languages week. Taylor, who scored an unbeaten century, and Williamson led the visitors' charge. Their 137-run partnership in 27.4 overs for the third wicket was a demonstration of measured run-gathering sprinkled with cleverly-timed bursts after New Zealand, having been sent in, lost two early wickets. New Zealand also benefited from a late burst from Elliott, whose 32-ball 43 helped the visitors ransack 115 runs in the last 10 overs and push the score past 300.
Williamson, who began slowly, went on to register his fifth consecutive fifty-plus score. His 102-ball effort ended in the 37th over when he inside-edged Tinashe Panyangara - Zimbabwe's best bowler on the day whose figures of 2 for 50 could have been a lot better had he received greater support from his fielders - onto the stumps three runs short of his eighth hundred.
Taylor, though, hung on, and notched up his 15th ODI hundred - his fourth this year - in an innings of two distinct parts. He began by methodically working out the Zimbabwe bowlers, barely giving in to his indulgences, before unleashing some muscular fury in the end. When Taylor reached his half-century in 89 balls, he had only two fours. By the time New Zealand's innings ended, he had hit five fours and three sixes.
The Williamson-Taylor combination now has an aggregate of 2193 runs in 38 innings at an average of 60.91, but by the end of the day those imposing numbers ceded centre stage to Ervine & Co.
Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo