BULAWAYO — Not even Zimbabwe’s most successful performance in the field against South Africa in 15 years could change the inevitable.
Despite bowling their big brothers out for the first time since the 1999 World Cup, and just the third time in their 34-One Day International history, Zimbabwe could not avoid a series defeat.
After stemming South Africa’s speedy start and punctuating their progress by plucking through their middle and lower order, Zimbabwe gave themselves the best chance of levelling the series and then squandered it.
Their batting proved brittle with only Sean Williams and the tail mounting any resistance. The rest engineered their own downfall against a disciplined but not overly dangerous South African attack.
Zimbabwe would have known there were no demons in the pitch when they watched South Africa bat. Apart from the usual sluggishness and a small amount of turn, South Africa found runs with nothing more than old-fashioned digging in and that it was possible to play with relative freedom in parts.
Quinton de Kock breezed to a sprightly 38, helped by Brian Vitori’s struggles to find a strangling line as he made his return from an ankle niggle, and became the join fastest to 1 000 ODI runs. De Kock shares the record with Jonathan Trott, who also reached the milestone in 21 innings.
De Kock only added one run to the landmark figure before becoming the second of three quick wickets, as Zimbabwe wrested control of the innings. Both he and Hashim Amla fell to John Nyumbu and AB de Villiers was run out freakishly after thinking he had paddled the ball past wicketkeeper Richmond Mutumbami, when in fact it had stopped at the wicketkeeper’s feet.
South Africa lost three wickets for 13 in the space of 26 deliveries to land Faf du Plessis in a familiar rebuilding role. With JP Duminy, du Plessis negotiated Zimbabwe spinners, Sikandar Raza included, with care. For seven overs they could not find the boundary and had to be content with 26 runs in ones and twos before Duminy was bowled around his legs.
David Miller failed to take advantage of the more than 20 overs he had in front of him until the latter stages of his innings, when he was the key protagonist in South Africa’s most profitable over. Luke Jongwe was taken for 18 runs in the penultimate over of the Powerplay, a period in which South Africa scored 43 runs, but lost both du Plessis and Miller.
Du Plessis was their only half-centurion, proof that watchfulness can go further than all-out aggression on occasion.
His enterprising innings meant that by the time South Africa entered the final fifth of their innings they were in almost exactly the same position as they were in during the first ODI, at least in runs terms. On Sunday, South Africa had been 208 for one.
On Tuesday, they were 206 for six.
The wickets were testament to Elton Chigumbura’s more creative captaincy — he rotated bowlers with more thought and set better fields — and the spinners’ stranglehold. But South Africa’s lower middle order was still capable of mounting a surge.
Wayne Parnell and Kyle Abbott put on 41 runs for the eighth wicket to take the score past 250 and leave the contest well-balanced at the halfway stage.
Zimbabwe would have been pleased with their last 10-over squeeze of 51 for four, until their own first 12 were complete. As was the case in the first ODI, Zimbabwe lost the match in the space of 22 overs when the chase was crippled in its infancy.
Mutumbami was dropped on three by de Villiers at second slip but added just nine more before being trapped lbw by an Aaron Phangiso arm ball. Hamilton Masakadza left a gap between bat and pad, which Parnell snuck through with a good-length ball, and Raza left a Ryan McLaren ball that angled into him.
At 26 for three, Brendan Taylor was considered Zimbabwe’s last hope but he disappointed again when he hit Duminy straight to Miller at long-on. Williams held together the middle order, but found few allies as McLaren and Parnell, who picked up his 50th ODI wicket when Chigumbura top-edged a short ball that got big on him to mid-on, sliced through.
The margin of defeat was cut by a stubborn ninth-wicket stand of 41 in 5,3 overs between Neville Madziva and Nyumbu, who thrilled his home crowd with his shot-making, and lusty blows from Vitori, who took 20 runs off Duminy’s last over.
That will come as scant consolation for Zimbabwe. They were mostly bossed by a South African side that has both a trophy and a cupboard full of reserve bowlers with a game to go before this series is officially over.