New Zealand smash Zimbabwe

After a shaky start at the Harare Sports Club, New Zealand has recovered remarkably to post an impressive 452-9 on the first day of their test series against Zimbabwe. An amazing last session, in which 219 runs were posted, ensured the Black Caps scored at over five an over throughout the days play.

Upon inspecting the pitch, which seemed slow and possibly favour the bowlers early on, Tatenda Taibu put New Zealand into bat. It seemed the right move, as Heath Streak immediately found an immaculate line and length. James Marshall in particular was having problems with the out-swing, and while still only in the first over he appeared to pay the ultimate price. His thick edge fell just short of slip, a sign of things to come.

Lou Vincent was just as circumspect, Blessing Mahwire keeping a good length to the right-handers on his comeback appearance. Vincent’s indecision led to two chance boundaries, where he looked to leave twice which ran off the bat behind the wicketkeeper. The New Zealanders seemed intent on looking for the boundary, rather than picking off the quick singles. It was not an accomplished start by the tourists, as the Zimbabwe opening combination grew in confidence.

Streak continued to vary his deliveries magnificently, as twin leg-before shouts were turned down. Hesitation resulted in a near mix-up between the opening batsmen, most certainly a bi-product of anxiety and frustration.

Vincent’s continued frustration in the end was his downfall; a flashing drive off Mahwire resulted in a sharp catch by Carlisle at gully. Hamish Marshall came to the wicket and an off-drive for three was a confident start. The next ball however, his twin James became stuck on the crease and was caught behind for 5, a staggered effort. 21 without loss became 24-2.

Captain Stephen Fleming strode to the crease, in no doubt that his side was in need of a partnership. He used his experience and looked to rotate the strike to alleviate any pressure the Zimbabweans were mounting. Marshall looked increasingly comfortable, with an array of punches and cuts in a short space of time.

A classical off-drive was followed by two arrogantly played cover drives by Fleming, an early indication that he was in decent form. 19 year-old Chris Mpofu was introduced in the attack, and Fleming was brutal on anything remotely wide. At the first interval, New Zealand had reached 58 for 2.

Soon afterwards, Mpofu got one to dart back at a flat-footed Marshall, trapped dead in front. 20 off 25 balls was a disappointing end to what was a promising display. Nathan Astle joined his skipper and began tentatively, as a score line of 63 for 3 would dictate. A smashing drive through the covers was the kick-start Astle needed, played with a care-free flow of the blade. A well-worked partnership followed with New Zealand’s two most experienced players setting themselves up for a long vigil at the crease. At 100 for 3 at lunch, the tourists had recovered somewhat from a shaky start.

Any advantage New Zealand had gained was wrestled away straight after lunch by Streak. Unable to resist an out-swinger, Astle poked at one that was taken by the slips, out for 23. A few runs later, new player Styris was brilliant run-out after a mix-up with Fleming. At 113 for 5, an upset beckoned.

Any thoughts of an upset were removed by the energetic presence of New Zealand wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum’s arrival at the batting crease. A couple of crisp punches down the ground fuelled his confidence, which he built on with an aerial cut shot. With Mpofu retiring with cramps, McCullum needed no further invitation. He set about crafting a dazzling innings, with a mixture of aggressive and inventive stroke-play. Blessing Mahwire, who had been the pick of the bowlers until that point, was taken apart by McCullum with pure disdain. Two superb drop-kicks over mid-wicket, walking across his stumps and all, signalled the distinct shift in momentum. It was confidence personified, the diminutive batsman showing a strong sense of determination and courage.

Leg spinner Graeme Cremer did nothing to stem the flow, a full toss to McCullum firmly dispatched over cow corner. With the Zimbabwean bowlers starting to tire, captain and wicketkeeper began to well and truly dominate proceedings. Fleming sedately reached his 30th half century in tests, however it was a vital innings in the context of this match. McCullum in contrast only needed 40 balls for his milestone, the sixth fastest test fifty for New Zealand.

It wasn’t until just before tea that the next wicket fell, Fleming slashing Mpofu to gully on his return to the bowling crease. The skipper had scored 73 crucial runs, holding the innings together superbly. It might have been the end of Fleming, but it was not the end of the fireworks.

Daniel Vettori has performed credibly as a batsman in recent times, and he obviously took that confidence into this innings. There was no respite for the Zimbabwe bowlers, Vettori playing some crashing pulls and cover drivers in a display that matched McCullum for sheer aggressive intent. McCullum slowed up slightly until he reached his second test century, off just 94 balls. He eventually fell for 111 off 112, a scintillating knock that propelled New Zealand into a position of strength.

The bespectacled Vettori continued to feast on the bowling, as an apparent injury to Streak weakened the home side’s potency. On 67 however, Vettori edged a Streak delivery which clattered onto his leg stump. Somehow the bails remained, and after turning to head off to the pavilion, he returned to continue his one-man onslaught. Vettori reached a magnificent hundred off just 84 balls, the fastest test century by a New Zealander. He eventually was yorked by Streak for 127 off 98 balls. It was a signal to not just his top order team-mates, but also demonstrating the brilliant depth the New Zealand has in their batting.

If that wasn’t enough, Shane Bond launched a cameo of his own, with 41 off just 38 balls. Three towering sixes and balls dispatched to all parts, the tourists reached an amazing 453 with one wicket left in the days play. New Zealand might have started nervously, but some wonderful partnerships down the order have hit home the new found confidence and ability of this New Zealand side.

New Zealand 453 for 9 (Vettori 127, McCullum 111, Fleming 73) against Zimbabwe (Streak 3-115, Mpofu 2-100) at stumps on day one.

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