Brendon McCullum led New Zealand's fightback with an aggressive display
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Zimbabwe gave New Zealand a scare early on at Harare Sports Club, reducing the tourists to an embarrassing 113 for 5 before a superb partnership between Stephen Fleming (73) and Brendon McCullum (111) turned the tables.Then the slaughter began and Daniel Vettori cashed in with his second Test century to take New Zealand into a strong position by the close.
The day began with Tatenda Taibu putting New Zealand in to bat on what appeared to be a good pitch, though there was a little more grass on it than usual. It traditionally helps seamers early on and Heath Streak, despite a slight groin strain, bowled superbly. He received excellent support from Blessing Mahwire who dismissed the openers in the space of three balls, with Lou Vincent caught in the gully for 13 and James Marshall edging a catch to Taibu behind the stumps for 5. New Zealand at this stage were 24 for 2.
Fleming broke the shackles with four handsome off-driven boundaries in the space of two overs. But Chris Mpofu fought back, cutting the ball in to trap Hamish Marshall lbw for 20. After lunch, two more wickets fell quickly, Nathan Astle (23) caught in the slips off Streak and Scott Styris (7) brilliantly run out.
Then McCullum decided that attack was the best method of defence and right from the start launched an exciting assault on the bowlers. The Zimbabwe bowlers, who had hitherto dominated the play against expectations, wilted under the assault and were further handicapped temporarily by a leg injury to Mpofu, leaving only two seamers and leg-spinner Graeme Cremer to hold the fort.
McCullum raced to his 50 off 40 balls, with some audacious boundaries, and got the innings back on track with Fleming. On the stroke of tea, Zimbabwe finally broke the partnership, as Fleming slashed a sharp catch to Carlisle in the gully off the returned Mpofu. His was an invaluable innings, as he held the top order together and then shared that vital partnership with McCullum.
There was no respite for the bowlers yet, though, as Vettori, who first laid claims to all-rounder status eight years ago in Zimbabwe at the age of 18, played with similar aggression in partnership with McCullum, who eased up his assault until he reached his second Test century. Streak, handicapped by his injury, grew less effective as the day progressed and there was no other bowler with experience to keep the batsmen in check.
The partnership was flourishing when McCullum tried to hit Mahwire for six again, but sliced a skier backward of point, and Cremer ran back to take a difficult catch (309 for 7). Then Vettori, on 67, had a remarkable escape when Streak came on to bowl just before the second new ball. He chopped a ball hard on to his leg stump but the bail, instead of falling, spun and settled lengthways across the top of the stump, completely clear of the middle stump. Vettori turned for the pavilion, did a double-take and then a little skip of relief as he realised his good fortune.
Cremer took a wicket when he bowled James Franklin for 13 (369 for 8) and shortly afterwards Zimbabwe took the second new ball. It did them no good, however, as Vettori pulled Mpofu for four to bring up his century, his entire innings being played after tea. Shane Bond joined the party with a huge six off Mahwire and the new ball was bludgeoned to all corners of the field.
Finally Streak yorked Vettori for 127, off 98 balls - the bails comprehensively falling this time - but Bond was not finished, and he pulled Mahwire for two huge sixes in succession. It was a dismal end after an encouraging start to the day for Zimbabwe, 219 runs coming in the final session.