A maiden test century by BJ Watling was an unlikely prelude to a bowlers’ benefit that left New Zealand with an overwhelming win in the off-test against Zimbabwe at Napier.
The BLACKCAPS stamped their total authority on the match on the third day after new wicketkeeper Watling scored 102 not out in their first innings of 495 for seven declared after resuming on 392 for five.
Zimbabwe’s response was poor to say the least, the tourists making a record low 51 and 143 as the hosts enjoyed victory by a margin of an innings and 301 runs, the largest in the country’s history.
Veteran fast bowler Chris Martin caused the major damage, knocking the top off the tourists’ second innings before mopping up the tail and ending with career-best figures of six for 26 in 8.3 overs.
Added to the two cheap wickets he took in the first innings which gave him a match analysis of eight for 31, 37-year-old man-of-the-match Martin lifted his career haul through 65 tests to 218 wickets, third equal on New Zealand’s all-time list alongside Chris Cairns.
Once Watling’s good work with the bat was done his bowlers ruled the roost on a surface offering consistent pace and bounce for the batsmen but Zimbabwe were found seriously wanting in their first test appearance on foreign soil after an almost six-year self-imposed exile.
Their batsmen failed to cope as their technical deficiencies were fully exposed by a persistent, accurate and demanding New Zealand bowling attack.
At one stage the tourists were devoid of any fight as they slumped to 12 for five in their second innings before showing they had at least learned some lessons as Regis Chakabva and Graeme Cremer combined for a stand of 63 in 82 minutes before Cremer holed out for 26 off part-time spinner Kane Williamson.
Chakabva proved there were no terrors in the pitch as he scored a career best 63 to delay the inevitable, playing intelligently and working the ball into the gaps during a stay of 161 minutes.
Doug Bracewell collected three for 26 to assist Martin and end with a match haul of five for five for 38.
Zimbabwe’s first innings capitulation occupied only 28.5 overs as a succession of batsmen were undone sparring outside the off stumps.
After the inswing of Martin accounted for Tino Mawoyo and Forster Mutizwa, who were both bowled, his seam bowling colleagues cleaned up big time as only Malcolm Waller, with 23, offered any resistance.
A series of poor strokes was punished by some excellent catching behind the wicket, with Dean Brownlie pouching four offerings at third slip and Martin Guptill another at second slip.
Zimbabwe’s previous test low of 54 was scored against South Africa at Cape Town in 2005.
After most of the second day was lost to rain, today’s extended first session set the tone as Watling, resuming on 52, became just the fifth New Zealand wicketkeeper to score a test century.
In his seventh test, and his first entrusted with the gloves, 26-year-old Watling had a nervy start in the second over when he successfully asked for a review of umpire Enamul Hoque-Moni’s decision to uphold a leg before wicket appeal. Replays showed seamer Shingirai Masakadza had delivered a no ball.
After that he made every post a winner with an unbeaten 102, joining Warren Lees, Ian Smith, Adam Parore and Brendon McCullum as the only New Zealand wicketkeepers to top three figures in the test arena.
He was in excellent touch, peppering the boundary regular to all points of the compass, and displayed both the composure and technique required as he and Tim Southee grabbed the initiative as they scored at a brisk pace as 74 runs were added in quick time for the seventh wicket.
Southee freed his arms in a clean-hitting exhibition which netted him 44 off 39 balls, with six fours and one six, before holing out but Trent Boult hung around long enough to see Watling to his century in the last over before drinks.
Dropped in the slips on 91, Watling wasted little time in the 90s, pulling Kyle Jarvis for four to go to 98 then reaching his hundred when he scampered through for two after a push forward of point.
He had cause to hold his breath, though, as television replays were required to show his sprawling dive into the crease just beat a throw from the outfield before wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu removed the bails.
The BLACKCAPS were without captain Ross Taylor, who watched all the action from the grandstand after suffering a grade two tear to his right calf muscle which forced him to retire hurt on 122 early on the second day.
Taylor is expected to be sidelined for up to a month, and the leadership duties for this test fell to McCullum, who got an easy ride as his bowlers totally dominated the tourists.
Day 2: Taylor injury mars second day of Test
Rain ruined New Zealand’s prospects of seriously advancing the first test against Zimbabwe at Napier today while more worryingly an injury cloud hovers over captain Ross Taylor.
Only 15.2 overs were possible before rain ended the day’s play, with the BLACKCAPS having progressed to 392 for five from their overnight 331 for five.
The day was further darkened for the hosts when Taylor was forced to retire hurt after injuring his right calf muscle while attempting a quick single 45 minutes into the first session at McLean Park.
He had added just 11 to his overnight 111 not out when he set off for a regulation single only to complete the run hobbling gingerly.
Taylor received immediate treatment from physiotherapist Paul Close, who then assisted him from the field when the injury was deemed severe enough to prevent him from batting on.
Taylor was later taken to a nearby hospital for a scan, the results of which are being awaited before New Zealand team management are in a position to confirm Taylor’s status for the remainder of the test.
His unfortunate departure came amid a blossoming sixth wicket partnership with new wicketkeeper BJ Watling, which realised 87 runs after they had come together late on the first day.
Selected to don the wicketkeeping gloves for the first time at test level, Watling showed his batting prowess at No 7 in the order as he dominated the early scoring today after taking guard on his overnight 15.
He scored fluently which enabled Taylor to quietly re-establish himself after producing his sixth test century on the first day.
Their stand was ended by Taylor’s injury but Watling soon afterwards reached his second test half-century, in his seventh test, and was on 52 when the showers arrived.
He has battled for 131 minutes so far and struck seven fours. Ironically, Watling reached his 50 with a rare false stroke when a genuine edge off Hamilton Masakadza hurried away to third man.
Set to resume tomorrow alongside Watling is Doug Bracewell on 11, after the Central Stags allrounder benefited from a dropped catch when on two.
He mishit an aerial cover drive directly to Forster Mutizwa, who spilled an easy offering.
Play is scheduled to start 30 minutes early at 10am tomorrow as officials strive to make up the time lost today.
Day 1: Taylor ton lifts BLACKCAPS
A sparkling century from captain Ross Taylor lifted the Black Caps to a very satisfactory position on the first day of the one-off test against Zimbabwe in Napier today.
Taylor appreciated a return to his home ground at McLean Park to produce a stroke-laden 111 not out as New Zealand went to stumps at 331 for five after being inserted.
His sixth test century, his first in almost two years and the first since he assumed the captaincy, ensured the hosts enter the second day well placed to push on to 450-plus, which they will need to do on a good batting surface.
Taylor barely played a false stroke today, peppering the boundary with 13 fours and two sixes, and enjoying an important stand of 82 for the fifth wicket with Daniel Vettori after the New Zealanders threatened to lose their way when losing two quick wickets immediately after tea.
Honours were tipping Zimbabwe’s way with New Zealand 196 for four shortly into the last session but Vettori and Taylor asserted themselves, particularly left-hander Vettori, who was full of positive intent as he cracked seven boundaries to reach 38.
Vettori was only undone by a superb delivery from legspinner Graeme Cremer, a wrong ‘un which beat the outside edge and had the batsman over-stretching before wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu completed a very smart stumping.
Taylor then shared an unbroken stand of 53 for the sixth wicket with wicketkeeper BJ Watling, who will look to build on his 15 not out and shield the lower order for as long as possible.
The hosts had had a light bite to eat at tea when on a comfortable 194 for two, with opener Brendon McCullum zeroing in on his seventh test century.
The pitch, which was supposed to be a seamer’s delight according to much of the pre-test chatter, was playing well, offering some sideways movement for the bowlers but benefiting the batsmen due to its consistent pace and bounce.
The New Zealanders were forced to re-set their sights immediately following the tea break, though, when McCullum’s 248-minute stay ended after seamer Kyle Jarvis trapped him leg before wicket to a ball which nipped back and struck him in front.
McCullum’s 83 featured eight fours and two sixes and came off 158 balls after he and Martin Guptill had earlier done the spade work by compiling an opening stand of 124.
He was almost immediately followed back to the pavilion by Dean Brownlie, who failed to capitalise on being dropped on nought by Brendan Taylor when he chased an innocuous ball from gentle medium pacer Hamilton Masakadza and succeeded only in offering an edge to Taibu.
Brownlie’s removal for a duck left New Zealand at 196 for four and it was left to Taylor, Vettori and Watling to regain the initiative.
Zimbabwe skipper Brendan Taylor had no hesitation on asking the New Zealanders to bat first this morning shortly after he learned he would have to do without his experienced left-arm spinner Ray Price, who was troubled by a groin injury.
But after a promising opening his seam attack of Jarvis, Brian Vitori and new cap Shingirai Masakadza misplaced their compass as some wayward bowling enabled McCullum and Guptill to ease into their work.
These two raised their 50-run stand in just 45 minutes when McCullum saw a streaky edge run away to third man for three off Vitori and by drinks the Black Caps were well settled at 68 without loss.
The tourists tightened their lines in the second hour but the New Zealand batsmen were up to the challenge and continued to make the most of any width offered them.
Lunch was safely reached at 98 without loss and McCullum immediately raised their century partnership after the resumption by flicking Shingirai Masakadza behind square for four.
He then reached his 20th test half-century later in the same over when he drove through the covers for another four.
Guptill’s own 50 was not long in coming either as a square drive rewarded him with his seventh boundary, and it came as a surprise when the Aucklander departed soon afterwards for 51 when undone by the extra bounce extracted by Shingirai Masakadza.
Kane Williamson did not stick around for long, making four before a mix-up between he and McCullum resulted in Williamson being run out.
Williamson eased the ball into the covers and immediately set off but McCullum did not respond, leaving Williamson stranded as the Zimbabweans completed an easy run out despite Taibu fumbling the return throw.