Zimbabwe's two big-hitting all-rounders, Elton Chigumbura and Malcolm Waller, finally came good, with a 112-run sixth-wicket partnership to end a 12-match losing streak across formats. On a flat pitch in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's batsmen, Waller in particular, showed immense character to chase a total of more than 300 for the first time in Zimbabwe's history, and stave off a clean sweep in the series.
Captain Brendan Taylor set them on the right track with an aggressive 75 off 65 balls before Tatenda Taibu's feisty fifty kept the momentum going. Waller and Chigumbura came together at the start of the 31st over, with 146 runs required to win and crafted a match-winning partnership. They batted themselves in, took on the spinners - Nathan McCullum and Rob Nicol - capitalised on anything on a length or too full and left New Zealand's bowlers wondering how many more runs they needed to work with.
The chase was punctuated with twists, and after Chigumbura and Waller brought the target down to less than a run a ball, Chigumbura was bowled by Jacob Oram, swinging down the wrong line. He left Waller to marshal the lower order, a task he completed with distinction.
After the early loss of Vusi Sibanda, Brendan Taylor was again the flagbearer for Zimbabwe's cause and showed the right intent from the start. He spent the first ten overs striking at more than a run a ball, allowing Hamilton Masakadza time to play himself in.
Taylor was particularly ruthless against the offspin of Nathan McCullum, against whom he scored 40 runs off 24 balls. Nathan McCullum had the last laugh though when he timed a jump to perfection at mid-off, after Taylor looked to go aerial, and held the catch to dismiss Taylor.
The McCullum brothers took four catches in the outfield to puncture Zimbabwe's effort but Tatenda Taibu kept them in the hunt. He scored a busy half-century, in which he took on Luke Woodcock's left-arm spin with regularity, but Zimbabwe's real test came when Taibu was caught by Brendon McCullum at the end of the 30th over.
For 11 deliveries, the pair of assessed the bowling and conditions and then Waller began the boundary-scoring with a chip shot over extra cover and Chigumbura soon followed suit with a stunning six over mid-on. The beauty of their partnership was that it was not all brutal hitting; they also played some delicate strokes for ones and twos, with Waller even rolling out the perfect cover drive for four.
The pair enjoyed their fair share of luck. Ross Taylor dropped Waller at slip off McKay's bowling and Waller survived a run-out chance too. Instead of allowing that to put them under the cosh, Zimbabwe transferred the pressure to New Zealand, and Chigumbura and Waller took the team to the brink. Chigumbura did not last until the end though as he was bowled with 34 runs left to win.
When Meth was bowled three balls later, charging at Woodcock needlessly, the advantage had shifted back to New Zealand. Waller kept his cool and was assisted by a six from Natsai M'shangwe to bring the target within reach again.
M'shangwe departed and left Ray Price to finish things off. Waller smacked Graeme Alridge for two fours in the next over to ensure Zimbabwe needed 10 runs off the last 12 balls. The penultimate over saw Zimbabwe collect six runs in ones and twos, with Waller keeping strike. He was dropped twice at the start of the final over, both times by Taylor at short midwicket before Price was dismissed after getting a top edge to a short ball.
Waller made sure he crossed, kept strike and ended the drama with a calmly taken single on the off-side. He finished on 99 not out.
Zimbabwe's batting effort negated Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson's 195-run fifth-wicket stand, which came at close to nine runs to the over. The pair pulverised Zimbabwe's bowlers, particularly at the death, when they scored 69 runs off the last five overs.
That was after Zimbabwe had pushed New Zealand onto the ropes by reducing them to 41 for 3. After BJ Watling was run out for a duck off the second ball of the match debutant Njabula Ncube claimed two wickets, first when Vusi Sibanda took a blinder of a catch over his shoulder at point to dismiss Nicol and then when he had Brendon McCullum caught behind off a thing edge. Ncube was promising with his persistent back-of-a-length approach and bowling at the death, but occasionally banged it in too short. Meth was less successful and offered a few too many half-volleys early on.
Zimbabwe loosened their grip to allow Taylor and Jesse Ryder to rebuild. Ryder played with remarkable finesse and did well to work with Taylor through the middle period. He gave it away when he popped a leading edge back to Waller to fall three runs after reaching a gritty half-century.
Taylor had to consolidate with Williamson and, even when boundaries were rare, rotated strike well to avoid being tied down by Zimbabwe. The pair did not have to be patient for too long and were reprieved by all Zimbabwe's bowlers. When Meth offered the right length, the batsmen got under it; when Price bowled a full toss, they dispatched it; and even M'shangwe was punished when he erred. M'shangwe dropped Williamson when he was on 65, off his own bowling, an act that opened the floodgates at the end, allowing a deluge of runs during which both Taylor and Williamson brought up centuries.