West Indies 197 for 2 (Gayle 112*, Lara 41) beat Zimbabwe 196 (Vermeulen 36, Gayle 4-24) by 8 wickets, and won series 3-2
Capitulation under pressure: it was a familiar old story for Zimbabwe, who have done much to regain international respect during this series, except in this one area. First the West Indian spinners cut through the middle order like a knife through butter, and then their batsmen hammered their way to victory with almost half their overs to spare. The dominant figure for West Indies was once again Chris Gayle, the Man of the Series, who took 4 for 24 and then blasted yet another century off his favourite opponents. West Indies thus took the series by three victories to two.
After Zimbabwe were shot out for an under-par 196, West Indies' policy was to reach their target by dominating rather than accumulating. Gayle and Wavell Hinds survived a couple of good overs from Heath Streak and Andy Blignaut before going into overdrive. Lady Luck was with them, presumably having turned her back on Zimbabwe in disgust: Hinds, when 11, survived a high catch that Tatenda Taibu was too short to pull in, and several other lofted shots just evaded the fielders. Hinds's luck eventually ran out as a shorter, faster ball from Blignaut took him by surprise and he skyed a catch to mid-on for 13 (43 for 1).
But by now Zimbabwe's bowlers had lost their control, and Gayle raced to another fifty in just 39 balls. He then speeded up, and reached his second century of this series off just 69 deliveries. Meanwhile Brian Lara targeted Ray Price again, driving his second and third balls for six. It became a massacre, in which even Lara was overshadowed by the rampant Gayle.
Zimbabwe's fielders were mere bystanders against such brilliance, and it came as a shock when Sean Ervine surprised Lara with a yorker and extracted his leg stump for 41 (180 for 2). If Lara has a weakness, this is it - but he does score a few runs in between. It took Gayle and Ricardo Powell only two more overs to finish the match, and the series, in a flurry of boundaries.
It had been an overcast morning in Harare and much rain was predicted for later in the day - but in the event it held off until the match was over. Streak won the toss again and decided to bat, no doubt wary of fielding again after the events of the previous day. West Indies fielded an unchanged team, but Zimbabwe gave a debut to Alester Maregwede, a batsman, in place of Stuart Matsikenyeri.
The left-handed Barney Rogers, tall with bushy fair hair, played a handsome innings, standing tall and driving with authority, while Edwards was scarcely recognisable as the same bowler who had caused such havoc the day before, and bowled five early overs for 37. The openers put on 39, and enjoyed some of the luck that had helped West Indies 24 hours earlier, with Vusi Sibanda dropped off a straightforward chance to second slip when 5. But Sibanda ran himself out for 8, calling for a risky leg-bye.
Rogers made 34 before Mervyn Dillon returned for a second spell and had him caught at the wicket off a ball moving away off the pitch (57 for 2). But generally the bowlers found little swing or seam, and the inexperienced Ravi Rampaul, apart from the occasional wide, was the most consistent of the seamers.
It was when the spinners came on that Zimbabwe fell over themselves to give it away. Craig Wishart played what many might term a typical innings, playing some class strokes, including a six off Rampaul into the western stand, but he had made only 16 when he cut Gayle and was caught off a thick edge by Ridley Jacobs (107 for 3). Gayle struck twice more in the next two overs, removing the debutant Maregwede without scoring and Vermeulen for 36, both caught at midwicket, and both soft dismissals (111 for 5).
Yet again Zimbabwe were proving that they cannot handle pressure, especially when batting. Streak never looked in touch during his laborious 30, but Taibu and Blignaut both looked briefly capable of sharing a rescuing partnership, only to surrender their wickets weakly after doing the hard work. Powell took two wickets and three catches, including a brilliant one to remove Ervine. Zimbabwe's 196 was never likely to be enough in good batting conditions, and so it proved.
West Indies thus move on to South Africa with their tails up after narrow victories in both the Test (1-0) and one-day (3-2) series. There have been many encouraging signs for Zimbabwe, too - but their batsmen have to learn how to handle the pressure-cooker of international cricket better.