New Zealand take charge of Test with 412-run lead

Bulawayo—Ross Taylor and BJ Watling took 299 and 172 deliveries respectively to rack up 173* and 107 – their second hundreds against Zimbabwe – and build an advantage New Zealand may have considered unassailable. Tim Southee and Trent Boult took four Zimbabwean wickets for 10 runs in the space of 18 balls, and likely ensure the 412-run lead is more than enough.
Zimbabwe’s top order were blown away by swing and teetered on 17 for 4. Given their first-innings collapse, a three-day finish seemed imminent. But Craig Ervine equalled his highest Test score – 49 – and formed partnerships with Sikandar Raza and Graeme Cremer to allow the hosts to live to fight another day.
Taking the match into the fourth day was Zimbabwe’s second small success after they removed nightwatchman Ish Sodhi in the second over of the day. They did not see the back of another New Zealand batsman until 15 minutes after tea, when Watling dragged Raza to deep square leg. By then, the New Zealand wicketkeeper had a century, Taylor had 173* and their partnership – a chanceless stand headlined by crisp cuts, powerful pulls and careful strike rotation – had reached 253.
On its own, it was worth 89 runs more than Zimbabwe’s first-innings total. Combined with the 79-run opening stand, the 156 runs Tom Latham and Kane Williamson added for the second wicket, and other small contributions, it put the match beyond Zimbabwe, who were kept under the Bulawayo sun for 166.5 overs.
Their second new ball was under six overs old when the day began and Donald Tiripano and Michael Chinouya started promisingly with it. Both showed marked improvement from their second-day performances and made the batsmen play at more deliveries by tightening their lines. Chinouya reaped some reward when Sodhi played an uncertain drive and edged to substitute wicketkeeper Brian Chari.
Sensing an opportunity to get into New Zealand’s lower order, the pair tried the short ball but without the pace or the discipline to back it up, it was wasted. Too often, they offered their deliveries with width, allowing the batsmen to cut. Other balls were misdirected and invited the pull, a shot both Taylor and Watling played comfortably. Their ease against the short ball only highlighted Zimbabwe’s deficiencies when faced with the same.
With the seamers struggling, Graeme Cremer brought himself on. He did not manage as much of the turn and bounce he got on the second day, but Taylor and Watling were still cautious against him. It was only towards the end of the first session, when heavy legs caused Zimbabwe’s fielders to make several fumbles, that the pair upped the scoring rate. Taylor took on the more aggressive role and showed his authority against Cremer while Watling hung back and rotated strike. By lunch, the lead was over 250 and the pair well settled.
They returned after the break to deal for another careful five overs before opening up. The next 15 overs brought 61 runs at over four runs per over. In that time, Taylor brought up his century with a signature square cut. His second fifty only took him 83 balls, compared to his first for which he faced 108. Watling went into the tea break on 95 and brought up his century four overs later with a top-edge off a pull – the shot he had played so comfortably through his innings. The pair were given some freedom to bat on but managed only one more shot in anger before Watling holed out and Williamson called his men in, leaving Zimbabwe with a tough task to make New Zealand bat again. They decided to take on the challenge head on and played their strongest hand by promoting their most experienced batsman Hamilton Masakadza to open. Brian Chari, who does not keep regularly and spent five sessions behind the stumps doing the job, was given some time to recover but he did not have too long.—AFP

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