By: Firdose Moonda (ESPNcricinfo)
A trio of changes to both teams and a change of approach which saw Zimbabwe bat first brought no change in proceedings as South Africa swept their eighth three-match series against Zimbabwe. Even without their regular ODI captain AB de Villiers, who was rested for this match, two debutants in their XI and being a batsman short, South Africa dominated a Zimbabwean team that were without their senior-most batsman Brendan Taylor, who was dropped along with Brian Vitori and Neville Madziva.
Taylor’s axing came just two games after he was relieved of the limited-overs captaincy and after he managed just 20 runs in the two matches before this one. His long-standing reputation as the pivot around which the middle-order functions earned him no rope but his absence was notable as Zimbabwe suffered another collapse. Five wickets fell for 15 runs a six-over period to undo the recovery Sikandar Raza and Elton Chigumbura fashioned following another stuttering start.
With an additional seamer in their XI, South Africa posed even more of a threat than usual and Zimbabwe were silenced from the start. Kyle Abbott and Marchant de Lange added another item to the things they have in common after both took seven wickets on Test debut, when they both claimed wickets in their first over of this match. Abbott had Hamilton Masakadza out lbw when he beat his inside-edge with a full delivery and de Lange, making his return after 30 months out of the international game, had Richmond Mutumbami caught at second slip with his first ball.
Chigumbura’s was promoted to Taylor’s No. 4 position but it was Sikandar Raza Butt, not the new captain, who calmed the early nerves. Butt was confident against the both the short and the full ball and struck seven boundaries which suggested he could single-handedly haul Zimbabwe out of trouble. He sent Abbott through midwicket, smoked de Lange through the covers and took three fours off Ryan McLaren first over but then threw it away.
Faf du Plessis stationed a man at deep square leg for the pull and Raza played one straight into his hands, leaving Chigumbura to steer the innings from the 11th over. Sean Williams was in even earlier than he has been in the two matches so far but did not produce this time. He hung around with Chigumbura for 11.2 overs in which Parnell and rookie Mthokozisi Shezi squeezed them with changes of pace, and was bowled when trying to sweep Aaron Phangiso.
The loss of Williams forced Chigumbura to become even more quiet, an approach Malcolm Waller mirrored so well his presence barely registered on the radar. Waller scratched around until he was caught behind off the glove off de Lange. The next four wickets fell swiftly as Abbott claimed a second, Parnell took two in two and Shezi got first international scalp when Tafadzwa Kamungozi was given out lbw even though the ball pitched outside leg stump.
Amid the carnage, Chigumbura had crawled to 48 and as soon as the Powerplay began, he converted that. He whipped a Parnell yorker through midwicket to reach his half-century off 102 balls, and then cut loose.
McLaren’s slower bouncer took the most punishment and Chigumbura plundered two fours and then two sixes in consecutive overs. Chigumbura scored 40 off 20 balls to reach his highest ODI score and frustrate South Africa’s bowlers at the end but his contribution was never going to be enough to force a favourable result for Zimbabwe.
A sliver of hope came when Rilee Rossouw was run-out in the first over thanks to his own urgency to get off the mark and Waller’s direct hit, but South Africa’s line-up had their best to come. Quinton de Kock made himself at home in a senior role and scored briskly while du Plessis played with more freedom than he has all series.
Before 10 overs were up, South Africa had already cut the target to less than 100. The second-wicket stand was worth 73 when du Plessis was bowled through the gate by Sean Williams but de Kock seemed certain to take South Africa to the close. He brought his second half-century of the series with a chip over mid-off and his aggression after that took him within touching distance of a century. After sending Tinashe Panyangara over long-off for six, de Kock tried to do it again but misplaced it to deep midwicket to leave JP Duminy to finish it off.
South Africa won inside 28 overs and will enter the triangular series, which also involves Australia, brimming with confidence. Zimbabwe will head there in the opposite frame of mind.They remain starved of success and now have created more questions for themselves to answer ahead of duels with two of the most intimidating outfits around.