South Africa 119 for 5 (Klaasen 44, Chatara 2-12) beat Zimbabwe 117 (Chigumbura 27, Ngidi 3-19, Phehlukwayo 2-22) by five wickets
It was the discovery of diamonds that originally sparked a 19th century rush to Kimberley by hopeful prospectors, and in recent years visiting batsmen have dreamt of striking riches of runs on a pitch that tends to be as flat as the N12 highway that leads to the city. But a fresh pitch played completely out of character to enliven what had threatened to become a dreadfully one-sided contest when Zimbabwe were bowled out for 117 - their lowest ever total against South Africa - this morning, and it was the bowlers on both sides who prospered.
South Africa slipped to 58 for 4 on a surface that made strokeplay very difficult and were thankful for Heinrich Klaasen's 44 as their largely untested middle-order wobbled. A spirited performance from Zimbabwe's bowlers ensured that South Africa were made to toil for the result, but the total was never going to be quite enough to force an upset. Overcoming a few nervous moments, stand-in captain JP Duminy guided his team to a five-wicket win to go 1-0 up in the three-match series.
So quickly had Zimbabwe folded this morning that there were murmurings of a potential pre-lunch finish by the television commentators, with the recent change in the playing conditions to avoid unnecessary stalling of a result by the arrival of a scheduled interval brought into the discussion. Specifically, Shaun Pollock wondered if South Africa could get within 25 runs of Zimbabwe's total before lunch which, according to the new playing conditions, would have meant the teams would have stayed on until a result was achieved.
As it happened, when the lunch interval arrived it was the South Africa who were in danger of buckling under pressure, and they were happy to leave the field to lift the lid on what had become a cauldron of unlikely tension. South Africa's batsmen had come out swinging at Zimbabwe, but Dean Elgar was too early into his leg-side biff and flapped a leading edge to third man in the fourth over before Reeza Hendricks was beaten by a delivery from Wellington Masakadza that hung in the stiff breeze, drifting in and then fizzing past a defensive poke to rattle the stumps.
With that, South Africa were 25 for 2, and as the interval neared nerves started to fray just a little. Aiden Markram flashed at a lifter outside off to be easily caught by Craig Ervine at slip, only for replays to show that Tendai Chatara had overstepped. Markram gained a second life, but was clearly flustered and five deliveries later, he lifted a drive straight to Elton Chigumbura at mid-off. All of a sudden, South Africa were three down moments before lunch with a debutant on strike. It took four deliveries for Christiaan Jonker to lay bat on ball, and though he did enough to get through to lunch, Zimbabwe had been noticeably lifted by the early strikes.
The pitch, which led to Zimbabwe's downfall in the morning, was also key to their revival. If anything, a spongy surface eliciting tennis-ball bounce suited the Zimbabwe attack even more than it did the South Africa one. Where Zimbabwe's response to conditions with the bat had been tentative, South Africa's batsmen looked to play their shots regardless.
Jonker followed the top order's lead, playing plenty of shots, but he had only six runs to his name when he swung across the line at the day's other debutant, Brandon Mavuta, to give the legspinner his maiden ODI wicket. South Africa were 58 for 4 in the 15th over when he was dismissed, and it seemed that their overtly aggressive approach might not be best suited to a track that made attacking anything pitched on a good length a dangerous choice.
Zimbabwe, however, struggled to find that length consistently. Klaasen seized on anything short, pulling Jarvis repeatedly to midwicket and cracking consecutive long hops from Wellington out of the ground to motor into the 40s. He fell six runs short of what would have been a maiden ODI fifty, leaving it to Duminy to take South Africa stumbling over the line to a five-wicket win. Duminy played and missed at three in a row in Jarvis' sixth over, but collected a brace of boundaries off Mavuta and sealed the result in the 27th over with an unbroken 23-run stand with Wiaan Mulder.
The game might have been much closer had Zimbabwe managed to ring a little more out of their batsmen. Five of the top six were caught in the slips, tentative footwork and uncertainty outside off quickly unravelling against the extra bounce off the track. There was also a slice of bad luck for Zimbabwe as Ervine was given out caught-behind off Mulder when it appeared he hadn't hit it, the sound of bat hitting pad misleading the umpire. But the DRS isn't being used in this series, and Zimbabwe would have had no grounds for complaining about any of their other dismissals as South Africa turned in a disciplined performance and were duly rewarded.
Kagiso Rabada bowled a little inside himself but still snapped up two middle-order wickets, including the big one of Brendan Taylor. Andile Phehlukwayo also struck vital blows, picking up Hamilton Masakadza and Sean Williams in consecutive overs, while Imran Tahir's variations helped deal with the lower order. Lungi Ngidi, however, was the pick of the attack.
Ngidi started the morning by having Solomon Mire caught by Hendricks at slip - one of three catches Hendricks took in the position - and then returned to bully Jarvis from the crease with a lifter that hurried the batsman. He then quickly wrapped up the innings when Chigumbura chipped an offcutter to mid-on. Chigumbura top-scored with 27 out of Zimbabwe's 117 in 34.1 overs. That was never going to be enough to overcome South Africa's middle order, even one short of international experience.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town