Zim fight back but NZ on top

New Zealand are as expected on top of the second test against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo at stumps on day one, but the day was not all bad news for Zimbabwe, who recovered strongly from 75/6 to post a score in excess of 200.

Having again won the toss and this time chosen to bat on a pitch that looked as though it would be good for batting, the Zimbabwean top order found themselves experiencing a recurring nightmare as they slumped to 7/3, Shane Bond taking all three. Dion Ebrahim, off the second ball of the match, and Stuart Carlisle were both out in identical fashion, struck plumb in front by inswinging yorkers. Hamilton Masakadza completed the disastrous start with a peculiar shot, it is unclear whether the idea was attack or fear for dear life. The resulting top edge was safely held by Chris Martin at fine leg.

After a far from desirable start, Craig Wishart and Brendan Taylor improved the situation for Zimbabwe with a partnership larger than anything they had managed in the first test. A number of boundaries in quick succession followed the drinks break, although two of them were rather fortuitous edges through the slip cordon, and the fifty partnership was brought up. With the score at 65 and the two batsmen scoring ominously freely, New Zealand were for the first time in the series really in need of a wicket. Wishart gladly obliged when he swung recklessly at a short and wide delivery from James Franklin, intending to hit it powerfully through the covers but succeeding only in edging the ball to gully, where it was very well caught by a diving Nathan Astle.

A series of maiden overs followed that wicket and the pressure mounted with some threatening bowling particularly from Vettori, but it was Shane Bond who picked up the wicket when he tempted Taylor to swing at a wide delivery and he just caught a faint edge and Brendon McCullum took a simple catch. The score became 74/6 when Heath Streak was out the same way next ball, this time playing in defence rather than attack but the result was the same. You have to feel for Keith Dabengwa, on his test debut and walking out to face Bond, who had figures of 5/11 and was on a hat-trick. He defended the hat-trick ball competently though, and would have felt greatly relieved to have survived for at least twice as long in the middle as the vastly experienced Streak. He and Tatenda Taibu survived the final over and a half before lunch, the score at 75/6 as the players walked off.

The second session started brightly enough when Taibu hit a confident cover drive off Bond’s second ball for three, and showed an improvement from his nervous batting against Vettori in the first session when he played a powerful cut shot for four in the following over. Dabengwa got off the mark with a six off Vettori, getting down on one knee and slog sweeping a bowler with more than 200 test wickets for six is certainly not a bad way to score your first test runs. The batsmen seemed to have decided that playing aggressively was the best way to go about their batting in the second session, as Taibu and Dabengwa took the score to 100 less than twenty minutes after the resumption, a mark they couldn’t reach in either attempt in the first test at Harare.

The partnership raced through to 49 before Martin, who had earlier been very expensive when bowling at Taylor and Wishart, was brought back into the attack and in his first over clean bowled Dabengwa for a promising 17.

Taibu played a very mature innings showing some of the top and middle order how it’s done, mixing defence and some strong attacking strokes. The captain brought up a well deserved fifty with a powerful four off Astle. He was ably supported by Blessing Mahwire, the two of them recording the first fifty partnership of the series for Zimbabwe and ensuring that the middle session was a successful one for the home side. They scored 113 runs for the loss of just the one wicket in the session, going off for tea at 188/7.

The second session belonged to Zimbabwe, and the third looked like it was heading the same way, the score moving through to 211, at 88 the partnership was rapidly approaching the team’s record for the eighth wicket, before Taibu played a hook shot that went straight up in the air and was caught by Vettori in the outfield. The rather loose shot was quite uncharacteristic and a disappointing end to a great innings of 76. The wicket was Bond’s sixth, new career-best test figures for the fast bowler whose comeback from a long time out of the game through back injury will be seen as one of the highlights of New Zealand’s controversial tour.

The other participant in the big partnership followed not long afterwards when Mahwire swung wildly at a ball from Vettori and hitting it straight up for a simple catch for Astle at mid-on to end his innings of 42, easily the highest score of his career. The wicket was a well-deserved one for Vettori, who had bowled brilliantly throughout the day, beating the bat countless times, but previously without success.

The last two batsmen managed to frustrate the New Zealanders by putting on 13 runs in just over 7 overs before Vettori struck again, removing Mpofu for 7, the final score for Zimbabwe 231 all out, a huge improvement over the first test, in which they only scored 158 runs in the entire match.

A point of interest as the New Zealand innings began was how the two openers would go. Neither James Marshall nor Lou Vincent, particularly the latter, are comfortable in the opening spot and both failed to impress in the first test. Vincent got off the mark impressively with a beautiful cover drive off Mahwire, a promising start. Marshall was less convincing, getting his scoring underway with an edge through slips to the boundary. The difficult period just before the end of play, too short for the New Zealanders to make any real progress but long enough to lose plenty of wickets, looked as though it was being comfortably negotiated by the two openers, assisted to some extent by some overstepping by both Streak and Mahwire. Considering how well the two were starting to hit the ball, it was a surprise to see James Marshall caught well at point for 10. He hit the ball cleanly once again, but had just found the fielder. Vincent was looking a lot more confident than in the first test, playing several fantastic shots as he moved through to 20 not out. New batsman Hamish Marshall also played some great shots, scoring at better than a run a ball in his 13 before an embarrassing run out in which both batsmen were at the same end of the pitch resulted in his lonely walk back to the pavillion and another wicket on the scoreboard for New Zealand. As the scheduled close of play was approaching and the minimum number of overs had been bowled, stumps were called at the fall of Marshall’s wicket, New Zealand finishing on 48/2.

Overall the day was won by New Zealand, but Zimbabwe put in a perfomance that was a remarkable improvement over their disastrous defeat in the first test last week, and in fact won the session between lunch and tea by scoring 113/1 in those two hours. But it was Shane Bond’s first session demolition of the top order, resulting in Zimbabwe being 75/6, that was the key period of play on the first day. After such a bad start, Zimbabwe were always going to struggle to reach a good total, and they have Taibu and Mahwire to thank for the team putting up a respectable and reasonably competitive 231. The two late wickets would have been a boost to their confidence, and the match is by no means over, but judging from the way New Zealand batted in the first test it is hard to see Zimbabwe having a first innings lead.

Match Summary – Stumps, Day 1

Zimbabwe 231
Tatenda Taibu 76, Blessing Mahwire 42
Shane Bond 6-51, Daniel Vettori 2-56

New Zealand 48-2
Lou Vincent 20*, Hamish Marshall 13
Heath Streak 1-27

Zimbabwe lead by 183 runs.

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