New Zealand's debutants - Rob Nicol and Doug Bracewell - played starring roles in a nine-wicket steamrolling of Zimbabwe that gave the visitors a 1-0 lead in the ODI series. Nicol hit a fluent century and his opening stand of 153 with Martin Guptill made short work of Zimbabwe's inadequate 231 for 6.
That Zimbabwe even got that far was down to a stirring rearguard led by their captain Brendan Taylor, whose unbeaten 128 lifted them from the shambles of 21 for 4 in 11 overs. Zimbabwe's bowling woes, however, continued unabated as they allowed New Zealand to take their tour tally to a prolific 546 for 4 off 75 overs, one of those rare breakthroughs coming courtesy a run-out.
Faced with a middling target and a tame attack, Guptill and Nicol wasted no time in putting the nature of the pitch into perspective. Zimbabwe's easy lengths, delivered at amiable pace, sat up nicely for Guptill to launch the chase with a raft of drives. He repeatedly moved into line to punch Kyle Jarvis and Chris Mpofu through the off side. Nicol, fresh from a century for the Mashonaland Eagles in the domestic Pro50 Championship, backed up Guptill with a series of leg-side fours as New Zealand rolled past 50 in six overs.
The introduction of Ray Price slowed down the scoring a touch, before it was more a case of the batsmen pacing themselves. Elton Chigumbura troubled Nicol briefly with a couple of spirited legcutters but, almost on cue, the bowling Powerplay was taken in the 16th over and released the pressure. Jarvis was reintroduced, and Guptill resumed his belligerence over the off side, while Nicol kept turning the strike over.
Zimbabwe were going through the motions by the time Guptill deposited Prosper Utseya over midwicket in the 26th over. Guptill's expression when he holed out for 74 suggested the agony of a batsman who had let go a hundred that was there for the taking. But Nicol persevered to become the seventh batsman to hit a century on ODI debut, a list that includes Guptill's name. An early batting batting Powerplay and the presence of the in-form Brendon McCullum at the crease meant New Zealand were home with plenty to spare.
Despite their toothless bowling, Zimbabwe lost the game in the first quarter of their innings. Broad shouldered and tattooed, with muscular arms, Bracewell strode in with a streamlined open-chested action and hit perfect lengths from the outset. He dislodged Vusi Sibanda and Chamu Chibhabha with exemplary away seamers, but the wicket that stood out was Hamilton Masakadza's.
Bracewell worked him over with a string of ten dot balls consisting largely of length deliveries that landed on the seam, interspersed with a pacy yorker and a well-directed short ball. The eleventh was full, Masakadza's eyes lit up as he lurched forward to drive, and the ball grazed the inside edge to uproot middle stump. Tatenda Taibu was then consumed by Kane Williamson's acrobatics at cover, as Zimbabwe stumbled out of control.
Though crease-occupation was their prime objective, Mutizwa and Taylor managed to pump adrenaline into the innings from the outset. They were cautious initially, and release came in rare spurts, predominantly against Andy McKay. Taylor cracked him square and carved him through the covers, while Mutizwa slammed him over midwicket.
Defence, misses and singles remained standard fare until the introduction of spin eased the pressure. Taylor and Mutizwa handled the offspin duo of Nicol and Nathan McCullum with relative ease to chug past their 50-run stand. The pressure began to show on New Zealand, with Nathan McCullum spilling a return chance and McKay parrying Taylor over the long-off boundary for the first six.
Taylor celebrated the miss by clattering McCullum for six more as Zimbabwe ushered in the batting Powerplay on the ascendancy. Taylor and Mutizwa pulled off a series of audacious laps over fine-leg to take 32 off the five-over block, which meant momentum was coursing through the Zimbabwe innings when the slog overs commenced. Though Mutizwa fell in the 42nd, Taylor was primed for assault.
He remained subdued until he reached his 100 in the 47th over, but exploded in Bracewell's final over. Bracewell served Taylor a full toss, a slow length ball and a short delivery, all of which were gleefully deposited into the leg-side stands. One debutant had endured a ragged finish to his day, but another was about to more than make up for it.