ODI 1: BLACKCAPS 303-4 in 50 overs (Williamson 97, Taylor 112*, Elliott 43) lost to Zimbabwe 304-3 in 49 overs (Masakadza 84, Chibhabha 42, Ervine 130*; N.McCullum 3-62) by seven wickets at Harare Sports Club
BLACKCAPS batsman Ross Taylor made history in Harare today, yet it wasn’t enough to seal a special occasion for his team as Zimbabwe's Hamilton Masakadza and Craig Ervine combined in a match-winning partnership, pushing Zimbabwe to a famous last-over victory.
The BLACKCAPS, celebrating Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori (Maori Language Week) with Aotearoa on their shirts for the first time in history, had posted a lofty 303 for 4 from 50 overs, thanks to an unbeaten century from Taylor and Kane Williamson's 97 from 102 balls.
Taylor made history by scoring the 15th ODI century of his career — 112* from 122 balls; his third against Zimbabwe and 27th in all forms of the game to equal the New Zealand record of Nathan Astle.
In reply, Zimbabwe got off to a sound start with Masakadza (84) and Chamu Chibhabha (42) putting on 74 for the first wicket, before the latter was bowled by Nathan McCullum in the 15th over.
Craig Ervine then combined with Masakadza for a pivotal 120-run partnership for the second wicket which helped steer the hosts to their thrilling last-over win, and had the locals dancing on the bleachers.
Along the way, breakthroughs for the BLACKCAPS had been hard to come by, the bowling attack not finding the exactitude required on a surface made for batting, after the morning conditions had evaporated. Mitchell McClenaghan steamed in with energy, Nathan McCullum enjoyed the most success in the wicket column, but it was hard graft for most of the attack as the match progressed.
Twenty-two-year-old leg-spinner Ish Sodhi had almost had a wicket in his first over on ODI debut, but he, too, would suffer as the Zimbabwean batsmen settled in and took advantage of loose lines and fielding mishaps.
After a fine knock, Masakadza was finally caught behind by Luke Ronchi, off the bowling of McCullum in the 35th over, before skipper Elton Chigumbura (26 off 31) came to the crease and all but finished the job for Zimbabwe alongside an ebullient Ervine.
There was an element of tension at the death with Zimbabwe needing 16 off the last two overs, but a boundary and a six for good measure to level the scores from Man of the Match Ervine left Zimbabwe needing just one run to win from the last over.
In the end they didn't even need that, as they watched the umpire's arms outstretch for one final wide, a flat finish for McCullum. It was the story of the day for the BLACKCAPS, and only Zimbabwe's ninth win in all their history against New Zealand.
At the start of the day, Chigumbura had won the toss and was quick to say his team would bowl first in the cool, earlyish morning conditions.
The hosts knew what they were about, and enjoyed early success with Tinashe Panyangara and Chibhabha removing BLACKCAPS openers Martin Guptill (11) and Tom Latham (14) within the first nine overs.
That delivered Williamson and Taylor to the crease. After a watchful start, the powerhouse pair who had been so effective during the recent tour of England recovered from 39-2 to deliver a polished partnership worth 137 runs.
Twenty-four-year-old Williamson, standing in for regular captain Brendon McCullum on this tour of Africa, "steadied the waka" in almost nonchalant fashion.
But hearts sunk when he fell three runs short of what would have been his eighth ton in ODIs for New Zealand as he looked to guide Panyangara down to third man, only to chop the ball on in the 37th over.
In his last six innings, Williamson has scored 45, 93, 118, 90, 50 and 97 today, to average 82 and underline his status as one of the most devastating batsmen in world cricket today.
When he departed, Taylor took the ascendancy and became the aggressor. He brought up his 15th ton for New Zealand with some trademark hitting over mid-wicket.
His century included six fours and three sixes from 115 balls and was his first since his 119 at Bulawayo in 2011; his third overall in Africa.
Since the ICC Cricket World Cup, Taylor has now scored 57, 119*, 110, 42, 47 and 112* for an incredible average of 122 over that period. The veteran of 165 ODIs combined well with Grant Elliott (43 off 32 balls), who upped the run rate before he was run out in the 46th over, having helped the BLACKCAPS to pile on 115 runs off the last 10 overs.
The BLACKCAPS were 255-4 at that point. James Neesham, playing his first ODI for New Zealand since December, was then "caught" off a full toss no-ball, had the bad luck to receive a good ball off the free hit and went on to score 14 from nine balls in his comeback match.
The second of the three-match ODI series is in two days’ time, also at Harare Sports Club.
"We'll look at little areas with the ball we can improve on", said Williamson afterwards. "It certainly wasn't a train wreck, but we'll look for improvement in all areas.
"I thought 300 was enough, but Zimbabwe outplayed us in all areas today and full credit to them."