Taibu’s Harare heroics in vain

A 3-0 defeat in a three-match series in almost any sport would be regarded as at least a convincing loss, at most a thrashing. Perhaps it is indicative of the imbalances in international cricket at the moment that Zimbabwe could be on the end of such a scoreline and come away with a much improved reputation, while South Africa exposed chinks in their armour despite three straight victories.

Once again in Harare, Zimbabwe produced a spirited batting performance, built around a maiden ODI hundred from Tatenda Taibu, who demonstrated just why he was so highly rated before his self-imposed exile from the national team.

Now returned the Zimbabwean fold, it is no coincidence that this short series has seen a significant upturn in the minnow’s fortunes. A year ago they were the laughing stock of world cricket when South Africa racked up 418 against them in Potchefstroom. Here however Taibu, assisted by solid contributions from the top order, took Zimbabwe to 295, despite their bowlers earlier conceding 323 as AB de Villiers and Albie Morkel ran wild with boundary-packed innings.

After chasing successfully twice in the opening two games, it was to little surprise that Graeme Smith chose to allow his batsmen first use of a placid surface. Despite the absence of Gibbs and Bosman giving the scorecard a slightly top-heavy feel and the early losses of both openers, de Villiers and Albie Morkel appeared in no mood for sedate partnership building, the former smashing 107 from 89 balls, the latter a one-day best 97 from 104.

Between them, the pair cleared the ropes ten times in a devastating stand of 186 in less than 28 overs. Runs flowed from the likes of young legspinner Timycen Maruma, whose three overs cost 23 and Sean Williams, who’s solitary over was taken apart in ruthless fashion for 22 by de Villiers – 462406 – as Zimbabwe’s spin attack appeared toothless. Even the usually miserly offspin of Prosper Utseya went at over a run-a-ball.

Inevitably after such a lengthy stand and with so many wickets remaining, the final ten overs proved chaotic, as batsmen came and went in quick succession. Once Albie Morkel had been well caught by Taibu off Elton Chigumbura, and de Villiers had holed out in the deep, only the second Morkel brother – Morne – made double figures. Two late sixes in a cameo 11-ball 23 lifted South Africa to 323, a total reckoned at the halfway mark to be more than another, particularly with the plethora of bowling options available for Smith in the field.

Yet the way in which the Proteas performed with the ball came as somewhat as an alarm, especially after less-than-convincing performances in the first two games of the series. Once again Makhaya Ntini failed to provide early wickets as Vusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza took Zimbabwe to 76 without loss in the thirteenth over. Batting with a new-found solidarity, Brendan Taylor and Tatenda Taibu then added a further 109 for the third wicket; at 210-2 in the 36th over, Zimbabwe had a faint sniff of a memorable run-chase.

But once Taylor sliced Thandi Tshabalala’s arm-ball to Jean Paul Duminy in the midwicket trap for a well-crafted 42, Taibu was left to watch the lower order crumble as Zimbabwe’s thin hopes vanished. Chigumbura, promoted up the order on account of his big hitting, could only loft the one maximum before he was unable to resist lapping Johannes van der Wath straight into the hands of deep square leg. Only Stuart Matsikenyeri offered Taibu the support he required, but by that stage Zimbabwe’s chances had completely evaporated, unable to sustain the required rate with batsmen coming and going.

Instead it was left to Taibu to complete his hundred, exhibiting the class so dearly missed by Zimbabwe in his year-long absence. He finished unbeaten on 107, facing 103 balls in all and striking 9 fours and a single six, off the expensive Tshabalala, who Taibu was especially harsh on. It was Zimbabwe’s first ODI hundred against a full member nation since Stuart Carlisle and Sean Ervine hit twin hundreds against India in Adelaide back in January 2004. It speaks volumes for the state of Zimbabwean cricket that those two centurions have both, just as Taibu temporarily did, now turned their backs on the country. Maybe only now, with their best player among the ranks, can Zimbabwe at least try to perform more competitively on a consistent basis.

South Africa 323-9 (50)
Graeme Smith 24, Gulam Bodi 32, Albie Morkel 97, AB de Villiers 107, Morne Morkel 23*
Gary Brent 3-58, Elton Chigumbura 2-48, Hamilton Masakadza 2-55

Zimbabwe 295-7 (50)
Vusi Sibanda 41, Hamilton Masakadza 48, Brendan Taylor 42, Tatenda Taibu 107*
Johannes van der Wath 2-50

South Africa won by 28 runs
Man of the Match: AB de Villiers

South Africa won the series 3-0
Man of the Series: AB de Villiers

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