Martin Guptill's ton leads New Zealand to series win
New Zealand 261 for 6 (Guptill 105, McCullum 87) beat Zimbabwe 259 for 8 (Taylor 107*, McKay 4-53) by four wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Had it not been for Brendan Taylor's century, which rescued a Zimbabwe innings that had floundered after a slow start, New Zealand would have beaten the hosts much earlier and more comfortably than they eventually did in Harare. Taylor became the first Zimbabwe batsman to score back-to-back ODI hundreds, and while he rescued his team from 83 for 4 in the 25th over, he watched helplessly as his bowlers once again struggled to take wickets, primarily because his fielders dropped as many as four catches.
New Zealand, for the most part, were clinical on either side of Taylor's century and secured the series 2-0 with one to play. Their disciplined seam attack forced a cautious start from Zimbabwe after which the increasing pressure to score yielded several wickets and allowed them only 259 despite Taylor's strong finish. New Zealand's batsmen were not as untroubled during the chase as in previous matches but Martin Guptill launched and then anchored the innings with his second ODI century. He had Brendon McCullum, who benefitted from all four dropped catches to score 87, for company during a 157-run partnership. Though New Zealand lost three wickets for 16 runs and stuttered late in the innings, the top order had already done enough to prevent a shock Zimbabwe win.
Zimbabwe's bowlers faced a familiar struggle. They had taken a total of three wickets in two Twenty20s and the first ODI, and they were able to take only one in the first 37 overs of New Zealand's chase. They should have had more.
Guptill had got New Zealand off to a brisk start with powerful cuts to the boundary and drives on both side of the wicket. In the sixth over, however, he survived a close lbw appeal from Keegan Meth, who was troubling the openers with his ability to swing the ball both ways. Guptill and Rob Nicol, who had also survived a strong lbw appeal from Meth, added 49 for the first wicket before Nicol was splendidly caught down leg side by the wicketkeeper in the eighth over.
Meth could have got McCullum four balls after Nicol fell but Hamilton Masakadza could not hang on to a firm flick at midwicket. New Zealand went into a bit of a lull as only 12 runs came between overs eight and 13 but Guptill and McCullum soon stirred out of it. McCullum charged Price to loft over long-on for six and Guptill cut Chris Mpofu to bring up a run-a-ball fifty. On 23, however, McCullum popped a catch back to Elton Chigumbura, who failed to latch on during his follow through. Soon after, on 31, he gave Chigumbura another opportunity, slashing towards sweeper where Malcolm Waller spilled a sitter.
With both batsmen well set, and 114 needed off 120 balls, New Zealand took the batting Powerplay in the 31st over. McCullum began to tee off, and flicked Meth over the square leg boundary. When he tried the shot a second time, on 59, he picked out Waller at deep square leg, but the catch was dropped once again. McCullum promptly clobbered the next ball far over square leg as Meth watched in anguish. McCullum ended the Powerplay with a straight six off Price - 46 runs had come off five overs and the contest was all but over.
Zimbabwe's marginally improved bowling but abject fielding effort had come after Taylor played a blinder for the second time in two matches. At 53 for 3 after 17 overs, Zimbabwe's hopes of competing depended on their captain.
Zimbabwe's fightback was launched in the 28th over, when Taylor swung James Franklin over the long-on boundary for the innings' first six. He had the plucky Waller for a sidekick. The surge came against Nicol, who bowled innocuous offbreaks and conceded 17 in the 30th over. Waller drove through the offside and slog-swept for fours. So did Taylor.
Taylor reached his half-century off 55 balls with a classy straight drive off Doug Bracewell and Waller brought up the fifty partnership, off only 6.5 overs, by cutting a short and wide ball for four. Waller was dismissed in the second over of the batting Powerplay, bowled by McKay who ended on a career-best 4 for 53.
Taylor, however, maintained the momentum Zimbabwe had acquired through that 86-run partnership with Waller. McKay delivered a series of full and very wide balls outside off, but Taylor chased and drove a couple to the boundary, forcing the abortion of that strategy.
Zimbabwe needed a strong finish and Taylor provided it. He paddled the third ball of the final over to the fine-leg boundary and lofted the next over mid-off for four, before watching Ray Price clout the last delivery to deep midwicket to round off a 14-run over. He ended on 107 off 105 balls, but it would be another valiant century in vain.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo