Gibbs and Smith propel SA to series win
South Africa, fuelled by robust batting from Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs, cruised to another easy victory at the Harare Sports Club that gave them an unassailable 2-0 series lead. Smith fell for 96 but Gibbs clobbered the bowling for his 17th one-day hundred, a 100-ball 111 with 16 fours and a pair of sixes. Tatenda Taibu, Sean Williams and Stuart Matsikenyeri were the architects of Zimbabwe's much-improved total of 247 but the bowlers failed to emulate their innovativeness as the tourists cantered home by eight wickets.
Smith and Gibbs enjoyed their batting practice and didn't break into a sweat as they led South Africa's pursuit. Neither batsman appeared in any hurry initially yet still found the boundary ropes. Smith was fluent off the pads, flicking and pulling boundaries whenever the bowlers erred, but left alone outside off regularly.
It wasn't until the 13th over that Smith took on the bowlers. Gary Brent was driven for three consecutive fours on the off side, and a top-class straight drive in the next over, just after a flick to fine leg, brought up his fifty from 53 balls. Chris Mpofu tried to bounce Smith but only looked on as the ball raced across the turf for four. In the 24th over Smith skipped down the track and hammered Prosper Utseya for a massive six before sweeping for four. Smith's second six, though not off the meat of the bat, cleared wide long-on by some distance.
Gibbs, who opened in the absence of a hospitalised Loots Bosman, played second fiddle initially but toyed with the bowling after crossing fifty. He raised the team's 50 in the tenth over with a powerful back-foot cut through the covers but the first aggressive shot was a dismissive front-foot smash over midwicket for four soon after.
Utseya, Zimbabwe's captain, brought himself on for some spin in the 16th over. Gibbs liked what he saw, and pulled the second ball to the boundary. Keith Dabengwa, who replaced Timycen Maruma from the first match, was easily picked for runs as well. Gibbs needed 58 balls for his fifty and hit three back-to-back fours in the 25th over. Smith missed out on a seventh ODI hundred as umpire Russell Tiffin ruled he got glove on an attempted sweep but Gibbs reached his 17th ODI landmark with a flurry of boundaries, including a massive six to move to 102. Mpofu and Utseya came in for harsh treatment, the latter taken for 17 in one over. Gibbs fell with just two runs left to get but Jean-Paul Duminy's unbeaten 24 finished the deal in the 40th over.
South Africa's bowlers were far from penetrative after Smith elected to field, allowing Zimbabwe to turn in a much better performance and set a competitive total for the tourists. Taibu injected some much-needed oomph into what had been a lackluster start with a 39-ball 43 and Williams and Matsikenyeri added 84 in 12.5 overs.
Zimbabwe were plodding along after the fall of the openers but Taibu changed the complexion of the innings, hitting Dale Steyn for three sixes. He fell just after raising the 50-run stand with Brendan Taylor (44 from 83 balls) but the Williams-Matsikenyeri partnership was just what Zimbabwe needed. Where 92 runs came in the first 25, there were 154 in the last. Critically, in the second half, South Africa struggled to find the correct length. They either pitched short or full and this suited Williams and Matsikenyeri just fine.
This was not the type of surface on which you could offer width and that's exactly where Williams and Matsikenyeri cashed in. It was a relatively simple formula the duo adopted: work the ones and twos and don't fail to put the loose deliveries away. Nudges and dabs into the gaps were followed by boundaries in the latter half of the innings; Williams uppercut between third man and deep point and flicked to fine leg and Matsikenyeri leaned into a half-volley from Steyn to signal the arrival of the slog overs. Williams top-scored with 54 from 50 balls and Matsikenyeri, with 52 from 51, made amends for his first-ball duck in the opener at Bulawayo.
Ultimately the battering Zimbabwe received from Smith and Gibbs only heightened the frightening one-sidedness of a series gone virtually unnoticed by the cricketing fraternity.
Jamie Alter is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo