Zimbabwe vs New Zealand, 1st Test
Bulawayo—Neil Wagner’s career-best 6 for 41 dismantled Zimbabwe’s fragile line-up and the hosts were only saved from being dismissed for the lowest first-innings score in Bulawayo by their tail. Prince Masvaure and Donald Tiripano shared an 85-run ninth-wicket stand to take Zimbabwe from 72 for 8 to a relatively respectable total of 164, but the day belonged to the South African-born New Zealand left-armer.
Wagner employed a short-ball strategy his former countrymen are known for and extracted surprising bounce from a usually tame surface to force a Zimbabwean collapse. Twice. In the second hour of play, the hosts tumbled from 35 for 1 to 36 for 4, and then, in the post-lunch session, lost four wickets with the score on 72. Wagner had bowled throughout that period, in a marathon 13-over spell broken by lunch, before New Zealand were frustrated by Zimbabwe’s late fightback.
Masvaure, playing his first Test, and Tiripano, in his second, batted for almost three hours and faced 260 balls in the partnership. The rest of Zimbabwe’s line-up only fronted up to 207 deliveries. On a pitch which called for patience and application, and against an opposition who were aggressive with ball in hand and in the field, Zimbabwe’s top-order was found wanting, which may prompt questions about why their captain exposed them so early.
With three debutants and plenty of inexperience in his ranks, Graeme Cremer would have been forgiven had he opted to field but he followed conventional wisdom and put his men in the firing line. Brian Chari was first to front up and Tim Southee did not allow him any easing in. The first ball swerved away, took the edge and went for four. The second did exactly the same but landed in the hands of Martin Guptill at second slip.
Hamilton Masakadza ushered debutant Chamu Chibhabha through a tricky period against Southee, who found consistent movement, and Trent Boult, who did not. Just as the pair settled, spin was introduced in the 12th over but it was Wagner who began the assault.
He banged in a series of short balls to Chibhabha, who eventually pulled uncertainly to mid-wicket. Wagner had the same plan for Sean Williams and hit him on the helmet first up. Williams had barely recovered from a change of grille when Wagner banged in another short ball. The batsman pulled and the ball went off his helmet to midwicket. Williams was given out, even as he pointed to his helmet in explanation. Sandwiched between those dismissals Masakadza gifted Mitchell Santner a return catch, which cost Zimbabwe their most experienced player.
Wagner continued to use brute force. He struck Craig Ervine in the rib cage and Sikandar Raza on the thumb but the pair survived to lunch. They enjoyed a small window of productive run-scoring after the break, headlined by Raza’s strength while playing the drive, but it did not last long. Their partnership had reached 36 when Ervine stepped out of his crease to loft Santner over the infield, made no contact and was stumped.
That fired Wagner up even more and five balls later, Raza succumbed to yet another short ball. Wagner changed lengths to Regis Chakabva, who was caught behind off a length ball that slanted across him, and then dismissed the Zimbabwean captain for a golden duck in signature style. Cremer inside-edged to short leg to leave Zimbabwe reeling at 72 for 8.
Masvaure watched the carnage from the other end before he could face a ball but showed the temperament to suggest he could bat higher up. He and Tiripano kept Wagner out, forced Williamson to bring back both Boult and Southee for spells with the older ball, and even dealt well with legspinner Ish Sodhi in a lesson to the rest of their line-up.
They built slowly and cautiously, especially as Williamson continued to test them with close catchers in unusual positions. The pair pushed the score past 100 and then past 150, and sprinkled their circumspection with some stunning hits, mostly off Sodhi. Masvaure’s back-to-back sweeps and Tiripano’s six into the stands were highlights but it was the slow grind of their stand that they will be most proud of, although there would be disappointment at not carrying it further.
With the second new ball ten overs away, Williamson brought Southee back for a last burst with the old ball, and he had Masvaure trapped lbw. Michael Chinouya could not hand around long enough to help Tiripano reach his maiden Test fifty. Chinouya was bowled by a Wagner delivery with a hint of reverse-swing that left Tiripano unbeaten on 49, his highest Test score.
Having already done the bulk of the day’s work with the bat, Tiripano then had to open the bowling with Chinouya. Zimbabwe did not manage to build any pressure as New Zealand ended the day with all ten wickets intact and their sights on the best batting conditions in the match tomorrow.—AFP