Some fight from the host

S. RAM MAHESH

Shane Bond... impressive yet again.-V.V. KRISHNAN

THE scorecard called it a lot closer than it actually was. Twenty-seven runs was the difference between the sides on paper. The match, however, was won before it had even started.

It took just a throw from the deep to snuff out any embers of a Zimbabwe fightback. Vusimuzi Sibanda flickered briefly after his side lost two early wickets, but didn't burst into the flames he threatened. In his brief stay, Sibanda melted into two drives that were Oriental rather than African.

"I think Vusi played really well at a tough time against their attack," said Zimbabwe coach Kevin Curran. "Unfortunately he was run out. But he's one for the future."

Jacob Oram's arm ended it as Zimbabwe, despite showing some fight and gaining a bonus point, was beaten at the Harare Sports Club. With this laboured win, New Zealand fulfilled part one of the Videocon tri-series `Final Prophecy'.

"This win was good for us," said the Black Caps skipper Stephen Fleming. "We never batted as well as we could. But to get through 50 overs, 49 overs like this, where we were tested was good for us."

Fleming also looked forward to a final versus India, saying he might choose to exploit certain "technical aspects" against the team in the next league match.

In pursuit of 239, Zimbabwe chose to try and bat out 50 overs. "The idea was not to lose wickets in the first 10 overs," said Curran. "That score of 238 was very gettable. We had a slow start but were competitive."

Shane Bond and Kyle Mills rocked the host early — five for two. But a stubborn Stuart Carlisle, first with the effervescent Sibanda and then with Tatenda Taibu, avoided the ignominy suffered against India. Charles Coventry (35, 21b, 2x4, 2x6) and Andy Blignaut brought a few big toys and mixed it a bit, putting on 63 for the seventh wicket.

"It was always a tough ask," said Man of the Match, Blignaut. "Not once did I look at it without hope."

But there never was more than one team in the contest.

Daniel Vettori bewitched Taibu with another arm-ball, a clone of the one that had bowled the Zimbabwe captain in the first match. Carlisle left for 30 becoming off-spinner Jeetan Patel's first ODI wicket. Super Sub Patel, of Indian origin, had replaced Craig McMillan.

Heath Streak clobbered Vettori, who promptly bowled it flatter and wider for Brendon McCullum to get involved. Coventry hit Patel out of the attack, and trained his sights on Vettori before Mills returned to extract the bespectacled Zimbabwean.

Blignaut continued to bash the ball and scored 50 (47b, 3x4, 2x6) but the moment had passed long since. New Zealand wicketkeeper McCullum had an excellent day, his gloves soft, his feet fast.

Earlier, Fleming won the toss and elected to bat, saying there was a bit in the pitch and his batsmen needed to get used to it for the stiffer challenge (India in the final) ahead. And on cue, Streak bowled a cunning curve-ball, full and enticing. Lou Vincent's half-prod resulted in Taibu squatting, and taking the nick with the fingers of his gloves pointing upwards.

The Kiwi record-holder was dismissed without a run on the board. Fleming struggled with the bounce, wristing a cover drive and chipping over long-on, before placing one in Blignaut's palms with the score on 39. Nathan Astle was subdued. The dasher was on eight when Brendan Taylor, at second slip, stretched to his right and grassed him.

McMillan withdrew his bat and sliced it to first slip. Hamish Marshall played an upper cut to third man. Sixty-seven for four, and the Zimbabweans were either pinching themselves or rubbing their eyes. Astle rediscovered a bit of form after the chance. He even managed his signature shot — arms tucked close to the body, while wrists slap it over point.

But on 61 (81b, 9x4), Astle cut under the ball and Taibu took an excellent catch; off-spinner Gavin Ewing whooped. Oram and McCullum played out their brief parts and exited nicely. Prosper Utseya and Ewing (three for 31) combined well — Utseya bowling better and Ewing mopping up the wickets.

Runs and overs evaporated like rare water droplets on Chennai roads.

Scott Styris, in between puffs of asthma medicine, ground his way to a half-century. He put on 79 with a flailing, steering Vettori, who was caught by an airborne Taylor near the boundary, three short of 50. Styris (63, 81b, 1x4, 2x6) left next. By then, he had erected the second strut that propped the Black Caps' innings.

"It was a different style of win," said Fleming, "but always pretty comfortable."

The scores

New Zealand: L. Vincent c Taibu b Streak 0; S. Fleming c Blignaut b Ireland 23; N. Astle c Taibu b Ewing 61; C. McMillan c Taylor b Blignaut 5; H. Marshall c Chibhabha b Ireland 7; S. Styris b Blignaut 63; J. Oram lbw b Ewing 5; B. McCullum c & b Ewing 2; D. Vettori c Taylor b Blignaut 47; K. Mills (not out) 1; S. Bond c Utseya b Blignaut 5; Extras (lb-6, nb-1, w-12) 19. Total (in 49.1 overs) 238.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-39, 3-60, 4-67, 5-129, 6-147, 7-149, 8-228, 9-230.

Zimbabwe bowling: Streak 10-1-51-1; Ireland 10-0-61-2; Blignaut 9.1-0-46-4; Ewing 10-0-31-3; Utseya 10-0-43-0.

Zimbabwe: B. Taylor c McCullum b Bond 1; S. Carlisle b Patel 30; C. Chibhabha c McCullum b Mills 0; V. Sibanda (run out) 21; T. Taibu b Vettori 16; H. Streak st. McCullum b Vettori 18; C. Coventry c McCullum b Mills 35; A. Blignaut c Astle b Bond 50; G. Ewing c Oram b Bond 12; N. B. Mahwire c Oram b Bond 8; P. Utseya (not out) 0; Extras (b-1, lb-3, nb-3, w-13) 20. Total (in 49 overs) 211.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-5, 3-37, 4-69, 5-87, 6-93, 7-156, 8-188, 9-211.

New Zealand bowling: Bond 7-3-17-4; Mills 10-2-34-2; Oram 8-1-38-0; Styris 3-0-10-0; Patel 9-0-47-1; Vettori 10-0-46-2; Astle 2-0-15-0.

New Zealand full substitute: J. S. Patel (C. McMillan, Zimbabwe innings, 5.0 ov).

Zimbabwe full substitute: N. B. Mahwire (A. Ireland, Zimbabwe innings, 19.0 ov).