Brendan Taylor was given one final reminder of how frustrating it can be to play for Zimbabwe: in his final match before he goes Kolpak, Taylor scored an excellent century to rescue Zimbabwe from 33 for 3, then saw five wickets fall for 52 after him; with the ball Zimbabwe had India down at 92 for 4, but then the fielding let his side down to lose with eight balls to spare. This was India's biggest test so far. Taylor's 138 off 110 balls, only the first time a Zimbabwean has scored back-to-back hundreds in a World Cup, set India their highest chase, the top order failed, but then Suresh Raina was dropped on 47 at a stage when the game was in balance. Raina and MS Dhoni then proceeded to take their winning streak in World Cups to 10.
Taylor, Zimbabwe's best batsman for a while now, and his heir apparent Sean Williams came together in familiar circumstances, that of opposition quicks dominating their batting. All three Indians had taken a wicket each, but the recovery fashioned by Taylor and Williams was so good they were left disappointed with the final total. It was thanks mainly to Mohit Sharma's slower balls that India bowled out their sixth straight opposition. Mohit got rid of Taylor and Craig Ervine, and Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami ran through the rest to not even let Zimbabwe bat 50 overs. Put together the three quicks took nine wickets for 139 runs.
The spinners, meanwhile, were targeted by the Zimbabwe batsmen on the small Eden Park. R Ashwin's 1 for 75 were his most-expensive figures in ODIs, Ravindra Jadeja went for 71 for no wicket. It was against spinners that Zimbabwe began their comeback. Just before that, though, Dhoni dropped a difficult low catch to his right. Had India got Williams - on two - then, Zimbabwe would have been reduced to 42 for 4.
Instead the two went on to rattle India, who were by now getting a little funky. Dhoni, possibly to counter short boundary right behind him, bowled Jadeja with a virtual long stop, sacrificing the third man. That's where Taylor hit two reverse-swept boundaries to kickstart the comeback, in the 17th over. After Taylor reverse-swept India to distraction in the first 50 runs of the 93-run stand, Williams targeted Ashwin, hitting him for three sixes over midwicket. Ashwin had a consolation victory along the way. After the Williams onslaught he changed ends to dismiss the aggressor with a difficult low return catch.
Taylor was not to be subdued, though. Classic shots over mid-off and cover, and reverse and regulation sweeps kept the pressure on. He took it up a notch in the Powerplay, going after Ashwin again. Ramping Shami over third man for a six, he brought up his final international century, in the 39th over. He celebrated it with another six over long-off in the same over. Then he took Jadeja to pieces in the 41st over, hitting him for three fours and two sixes. The sixes were orthodox shots down the ground.
Taylor had moved from 100 to 135 in no time, all the momentum was with Zimbabwe, with 186 for 1 coming in the preceding 25 overs, when Mohit came on to bowl the 42nd over. A slower ball, tight in line, and short of a driving length, cramped Taylor's attacking shot and offered mid-on a catch. Soon Ervine fell prey to a similar delivery. The rest of the batting again impressed upon Taylor how difficult it had been to carry Zimbabwe for so long. Apart from Sikandar Raza's 28 off 15, there was little contribution, and India were the favourites when the chase began.
That changed soon enough with the new balls moving around and Zimbabwe's frontline bowlers accurate. Rohit Sharma got a leading edge to Tinashe Panyangara, Shikhar Dhawan played on in the same over, Ajinkya Rahane ran himself out, and Virat Kohli freakishly dragged a Raza offbreak on from outside leg. Dhoni walked in no stranger to such situations but with recent question marks against his form, and joined Raina who hardly bats without any question marks against him.
Raina had a tough initiation with a few bouncers, and then a couple of leading edges of spinners narrowly missing fielders. While Dhoni started off in typically busy fashion, Raina scored only four off the first 19 balls he faced. You could see he was uncertain. Kohli's wicket made him more uncertain. But it was Raina who took the calculated risks to release India of the hold Zimbabwe had on them. The asking rate had reached 8.38 when the 30th over began. Raina took the left-arm spin of Williams on, managed two consecutive sixes over midwicket, and India were on their way.
The only time they stumbled after that was when Raina went to slog-sweep Raza a ball before the Batting Powerplay. The top edge went up for a regulation catch at backward square leg, but Hamilton Masakadza spilled it. After that India maintained the asking rate almost without taking a risk. Raina brought up his fifth ODI hundred soon. Since that drop and before the 48th over, the longest boundary-less spell was seven balls. Zimbabwe's limited attack failed to build any sort of pressure. And by the time Zimbabwe managed a dry spell longer than seven balls, the equation had come down to 18 off 19. Dhoni then finished it with a pulled six.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo