New Zealand played their first international fixture since the World Cup this year and were completely at ease at the Harare Sports Club. Their bowlers showed few signs of rustiness and showed plenty of discipline in restricting Zimbabwe to 123 on a good batting pitch, and the opening pair, led by Brendon McCullum, ensured it was all one-way traffic with a dominating response.
Asked to bat, Brendan Taylor said he was hoping for a score in the range of 160 but the early loss of the openers prompted the rest of the line-up to approach the innings with caution. Kyle Mills bowled consistently in the channel outside off and despite being smacked for a couple of boundaries, dislodged Hamilton Masakadza and Chamu Chibhabha in quick time. He derived a bit of movement and was aided by attempts at belligerence by the openers - Masakadza tried to loft him over mid-off but was caught while Chibhabha's blind swing produced an outside edge.
The responsibility fell on Taylor to anchor the innings and while he did that admirably, he didn't find the desired support at the other end. He rotated the strike and ran well between wickets once the field spread out but for the bulk of their innings, Zimbabwe could only maintain a run-rate of a little over six when they needed much more. Forster Mutizwa, Malcolm Waller and Charles Coventry all got starts but struggled to force the pace, and lost their wickets.
The New Zealand spinners, Luke Woodcock and Nathan McCullum, didn't find any assistance in the pitch but varied their flight, lengths and pace well to prevent Zimbabwe from stepping up. They did bowl the occasional bad balls that Taylor latched onto - he dispatched Woodcock through the covers when he pitched short and slog-swept Nathan McCullum, who was also smashed for six by Waller. But, while Taylor took them on, they found success at the other end. Mutizwa was trapped in front; Waller and Coventry fell going for the big shots.
It wasn't until Elton Chigumbura joined Taylor that one felt Zimbabwe could reach a competitive total, and the pair stepped up, running twos hard and going over the top but their efforts weren't enough. On a flat pitch, their muscle-power didn't take them far and the progress of the innings that was akin to an ODI game than a Twenty20 after they lost their openers gave them a below-par score.
Brendon McCullum made them pay with a hurricane innings, backed up well by Martin Guptill. Zimbabwe missed a run-out in the first over and let off Brendon McCullum twice during his blitz, and he set about making a mockery of what their batsmen had managed. The signs were evident as early as the third over, as he charged out to Kyle Jarvis and launched him for a massive six over long-off. He showed tremendous bat speed, clipping and pulling bowlers over square leg and was perfectly at ease, making room and lofting them inside out over the covers.
Brendon McCullum tore into Jarvis upon his return later in the innings and hastened the end by smashing Chibhabha for consecutive sixes in an over that fetched 20. Guptill wasn't far behind, swinging Masakadza into the stands and finishing on a fluent 40 but it was partner who ended the game in fitting fashion, dancing down to Ray Price and sending the ball over wide long-on to leave a relatively packed Harare crowd stunned by his merciless batting.