de Villiers and Bodi take South Africa to five-wicket win
A lower-order fightback from Gary Brent and Elton Chigumbura wasn't enough to prevent South Africa from coasting to a five-wicket victory in the first one-dayer at Bulawayo. Zimbabwe recovered from a disastrous 72 for 7 to post 206 but the target was hardly challenging for the South Africans as Gulam Bodi, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers helped themselves to half-centuries, polishing off the target with nearly three overs to spare.
After losing Loots Bosman in the first over to Christopher Mpofu, Bodi and Smith added 72, ensuring Zimbabwe could take no advantage of the early dismissal. To their credit, the Zimbabwean bowlers didn't allow the batsmen to blitz away to the modest target, and the fielders too impressed with their commitment, plugging the gaps in the infield.
Smith, playing his first match since the World Cup semi-final, got into his groove with boundaries on either side of the pitch. He used his feet against the gentle medium-pace of Elton Chigumbura and brought up his fifty with a boundary, an uppish drive off the same bowler. However, Chigumbura won the battle two balls later when he held on to a one-handed return catch. At this stage, the South Africans upped the tempo and pushed the run-rate above four.
Bodi had the most to gain, impressing in his debut game. He fetched his first boundary with an innovative flick across the line from off stump and kept the runs coming. He impressed with his range of strokes, caressing half-volleys past mid-off and then took on the spinners, sweeping and stepping down the track. Zimbabwe used as many as six bowlers by the 25th over but none looked like troubling the batsmen as Bodi and de Villiers milked the attack with minimum fuss.
Bodi eventually fell just after reaching his fifty, beaten for turn from the Prosper Utseya and edging to Tatenda Taibu, in his first match since 2005. de Villiers then took charge of the chase, stating his intent with three boundaries in an over off Mpofu, and even the loss of two more wickets - that of Jean-Paul Duminy and de Villiers - couldn't bring the home side back into the game.
Earlier, the Zimbabwe top and middle order were exposed in their inept display, after Utseya chose to bat under sunny skies. Vusi Sibanda set the pace with some confident boundaries off the front and back foot but he was unable to convert his breezy start courtesy a brilliant catch at slip by Smith in the fifth over with the score at 21.
Reckless running contributed to five of their dismissals and Hamilton Masakadza was the first victim, following a mix-up with Brendan Taylor. The arrival of Taibu spiced things up and his urgency to get off the blocks was evident as he took on the short stuff from the seamers. Taibu, perhaps the only world-class batsman in the line-up, sized up Makhaya Ntini with a fierce pull over square leg and in the company of Taylor, settled into a good rhythm, flicking anything drifting on the pads from Johan van der Wath and Morne Morkel.
Like Sibanda, Taibu too failed to sustain the momentum, edging to the keeper for 22. The introduction of Vernon Philander left the home side in further disarray, as he picked up two wickets off successive balls. An astounding one-handed pluck by Shaun Pollock at slip sent Sean Williams packing and Stuart Matsikenyeri was all at sea to an offcutter that sent his off stump for a mid-morning jog.
Two more run-outs followed; that of Taylor and Utseya, adding to the embarrassment for the home side. With all the regular batsmen back in the pavilion, Brent and Chigumbura set about the repair work with nothing to lose. They buckled down and picked up singles and twos. After nearly ten overs of nudging and grafting, Chigumbura broke the shackles with cover drives off Thandi Tshabalala, while Brent used the long handle to good effect each time the bowlers, especially Ntini, erred in length. The confidence in his strokeplay rubbed off on Chigumbura. A six by Brent brought up the 150 in style and soon after, Chigumbura took control, outscoring Brent.
A couple of spanking drives through the off side brought up Chigumbura's seventh half-century in ODIs and following it, he proceeded to cart the bowlers over midwicket. A run-out, courtesy de Villiers, ended Chigumbura's knock at 59 but Brent stayed on till the end, reaching his maiden international half-century in 78 balls. Zimbabwe posted a more respectable 206 but it was hardly a match-winning one.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo