Guptill, Taylor put NZ in control on flat pitch
New Zealand 275 for 3 (Guptill 109, Taylor 76*, Williamson 49) v Zimbabwe
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
New Zealand's batsmen had the opportunity to dominate Zimbabwe on a lifeless Bulawayo surface but a cautious approach against restricting lines and fielders in run-saving positions limited their first day of Test cricket since January 2011 to a good one. With the bowling mostly as flat as the pitch, a gifted wicket in each session - including that of centurion Martin Guptill - let Zimbabwe escape from having a fruitless day, though they didn't help themselves by not taking the rare tough chances.
That New Zealand were three men down was due to Brendon McCullum's impatience, Kane Williamson's slowness in getting back into his crease and Guptill finding midwicket off a long hop. Ross Taylor and BJ Watling survived some close moments against the second new ball - the only time Zimbabwe's seamers created any sort of pressure - to end a solid, if unspectacular, day for their side.
Guptill and Taylor did not look like getting dislodged as they worked the bowling around in a 132-run stand for the third wicket, both men unwilling to do anything extravagant. Guptill batted with care, going without runs for prolonged periods as the Zimbabwe seamers bowled straight with either a short mid-off or short mid-on in place after lunch. With Ray Price bowling a leg-stump line from over the wicket, the onus was on New Zealand to either unsettle the bowling or make a mistake. They did neither, waiting for loose deliveries and putting them away.
After a quiet period, Guptill skipped out of the crease to loft Price inside-out over long-off for six to move to 99. A pulled boundary off a long hop gave him his second Test hundred but he was out soon after, pulling a similar one from Hamilton Masakadza straight to midwicket.
Guptill's dismissal was similar to the way his two team-mates had fallen before him. After Taylor opted to bat in friendly conditions, McCullum threw away the opportunity to make a big score when he dragged an attempted pull off Kyle Jarvis onto his stumps.
Williamson and Guptill carried on unfettered but Zimbabwe had another gift coming their way when Williamson was run-out after lunch in freakish fashion. He tried to avoid a throw to the wicketkeeper from the bowler Ray Price but ended up being just short of his crease as he dragged his foot back.
The placidity of the wicket was on display as early as the second over when consecutive deliveries from Njabulo Ncube - one of five debutants in the game - bounced in front of Regis Chakabva, keeping wicket as Tatenda Taibu played as a specialist batsman. Guptill soon warmed up with three fours in Jarvis' third over, the second of which flew on the up between backward point and gully.
Zimbabwe had a couple of chances against Guptill; once when a powerful drive off Price went through the bowler's hands at head height just before lunch and again when Price could not get down in time at short mid-on as a punch went through his legs. With the three fast bowlers failing to get anything out of the surface, Price bowled a lot of overs and even part-timers Masakadza and Malcolm Waller were pressed into action.
How easy it was for the batsmen was evident when Guptill just plonked his front foot out and smashed Price for a straight six. Williamson looked a lot more fluent than Guptill, using his feet to loft Price for consecutive boundaries and timing the ball into the gaps off the seamers till he became the second New Zealand batsman to give it away when no bowler looked like getting him out.
In his first Test as captain, Taylor batted safely, going hard only at the cut when offered width and driving pleasingly through the off side. He was fortunate when Chakabva missed a sharp diving chance down the leg side off the second new ball. Watling became the next man to be let off as stumps approached when neither of Price and Chakabva went for a thick edge off the persevering Jarvis as it flew between them.
On such an unresponsive pitch, the excellent over-rate was the only thing going for Zimbabwe as New Zealand dictated the flow of proceedings, albeit at a leisurely pace.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo