Taylor, Masakadza star in series win
Zimbabwe 150 for 1 (Taylor 59*, Masakadza 58*) beat South Africa 146 for 6 (Du Plessis 66, Jarvis 2-22) by nine wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Half-centuries from Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza led Zimbabwe to a stunning nine-wicket victory over South Africa in the tri-series final at Harare Sports Club. Faced with the tricky prospect of chasing South Africa's 146 for 6, both batsmen showed remarkable poise and confidence to race to the win with 17 balls to spare. Their efforts capped a superb day for Zimbabwe, who kept South Africa under pressure with the ball throughout. The visitors had been carried by Faf du Plessis' fighting fifty but his efforts went in vain, and the South African bowling attack had no answers to a flawless batting display.
Masakadza had been fortunate to survive what seemed to be an adjacent lbw call against Lonwabo Tsotsobe off the very first delivery and Zimbabwe lost an adventurous Vusi Sibanda to a stunning catch by Farhaan Behardien at cover point in the fourth over. Taylor and Masakadza, however, kept control of the chase from that point on with a chanceless partnership that stretched to an unbeaten 118.
Where Zimbabwe's efforts with the new ball had been full of vim and vigour, South Africa's response was not nearly as intense and the match turned decisively in the sixth over of the innings, bowled by Robin Peterson. Peterson had been South Africa's bowler of the tournament before this match, giving away less than six runs an over in his previous games, but he fell victim to a stunning assault in his first over. Taylor led the charge with a slog-swept six and a brace of offside boundaries before Masakadza stepped out to smear a towering blow over wide long on, 21 runs coming off the over.
These matches were not classed as internationals, the games falling outside the ICC's Future Tours Programme and having originally been set up as simple practice matches, but that mattered not a jot to a packed Sports Club crowd. An all-singing, all-dancing multitude of several thousand cheered every run as Taylor moved swiftly through the 20s with a trademark deft, ramped uppercut and Masakadza extended Peterson's pain by shellacking a second six over deep midwicket.
The runs continued to flow and South Africa looked increasingly desperate in the field as the required rate dipped below six runs an over. Taylor was first to his fifty, reaching the mark from just 32 deliveries courtesy of a sloppy overthrow in the 15th over. Usually a somewhat reticent presence on the field, Masakadza celebrated his own half-century two overs later with joyful emotion, pumping his fist and embracing his captain before saluting all corners of a packed stadium. After reaching his fourth fifty of the tournament - an achievement that rightfully earned him the Man-of-the-Series award - Masakadza took Zimbabwe to the brink of a famous victory with a flurry of powerful boundaries off a listless Tsotsobe, before Taylor ended the match with a crunching pull.
This tournament had been billed as a chance for the teams involved to get some valuable practice ahead of the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in September and Jason Gillespie, who spent some time in Zimbabwe coaching the Mid West Rhinos, suggested on Twitter last week that Zimbabwe had the raw materials to do well at that event. All that was missing for them, he suggested, was a little confidence in their batting. That wasn't a problem today, as both Taylor and Masakadza seamlessly mixed watchful accumulation with decisive bouts of attack.
It was a different story for a South African side shorn of their best players. After a strong start against Bangladesh, they stumbled on multiple occasions and were under pressure early once again this afternoon when Kyle Jarvis removed Richard Levi with the first delivery of the day. An over later Amla fell for Chris Mpofu's short-ball trap, lapping a pull straight to Malcolm Waller at deep square leg, and the Zimbabwean attack had its tails up.
The visitors lost Colin Ingram, Justin Ontong and Dane Vilas cheaply to the Zimbabwean spinners and were looking decidedly wobbly at 67 for 5 in the 12th over before du Plessis marshalled the middle order. Fleet footwork, especially to the slow bowlers, was the hallmark of his innings. He also batted with remarkable control and had struck just three fours when he brought up a 48-ball fifty in the 16th over.
He found an able partner in Albie Morkel, and together they added 60 for the sixth wicket to rebuild the innings. The South African bowlers could not match their persistence, however, and never looked like running through the Zimbabweans.
Prior to this tournament Zimbabwe had beaten South Africa just twice in a pair of ODIs in 1999 and 2000-01. They have now gone past them twice in a week, a result that will give them oodles of confidence when they face the full South African side at the World Twenty20 in three month's time. Zimbabwe earned prize money of US$3500 today, but a historic victory will taste even sweeter.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town