New Zealand wrapped up a thumping 10-wicket win over Zimbabwe in Ahmedabad, surpassing the Zimbabweans in every department to set up a victory that will reinvigorate their World Cup campaign. They started by making light work of a timid batting line-up, Tim Southee picking up 3 for 29 as four of the top seven failed to reach double figures and Zimbabwe limped to 162. Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum then sealed the result with the highest opening stand of this tournament and New Zealand's best in World Cups, as the target was overhauled with more than 16 overs to spare.
New Zealand went into this game level on points with Zimbabwe, the teams ranked fourth and fifth in Group A with one victory and one defeat each and separated only by net run-rate. Beating Zimbabwe, especially considering the sheer scale of their win, means that, in all probability they will need only one more victory to book a place in the quarterfinals, with a game against Canada in hand.
Zimbabwe talked themselves into a corner before this game, letting anyone who would listen know that they were targeting New Zealand in a must-win match. Their words seemed to build more pressure on themselves than the opposition, however, and the batsmen froze under the weight of expectation to reach a challenging total after captain Elton Chigumbura won the toss and decided to bat.
The rot started as early as the second over for Zimbabwe, Charles Coventry setting off for a non-existent single to the second ball he faced and not even bothering to dive as Hamish Bennett's throw from mid-on hit the stumps directly. New Zealand looked like the more inspired team from the start, maintaining intensity and energy with the ball and in the field, and they soon had Zimbabwe in even deeper trouble when Tim Southee recovered from the disappointment of having Tatenda Taibu dropped at mid-off to pin him in front of middle and leg with his very next ball to reduce them to 27 for 2 in the eighth over.
Some inventive captaincy from Vettori was backed up by his bowlers' discipline, Craig Ervine falling to a well thought-out off-side trap, and Vettori also took no time to win the battle with his opposite number, dismissing Chigumbura with his first ball of the match. He added another scalp in the same over, Regis Chakabva flapping haplessly to slip as Zimbabwe slid to 46 for 5 in the 15th over. All the while Brendan Taylor had looked like his team's most composed batsman, cracking four boundaries to enter the 40s and keep Zimbabwe afloat. When he missed a full, straight delivery from Scott Styris to be out for 44 their hopes of setting a challenging total had all but evaporated.
Graeme Cremer and Prosper Utseya's stubborn rearguard was ended when Mills found the edge of Cremer's bat for 22, but Ray Price did at least manage to stick around long enough to help Utseya take the score past 150. Southee, who found appreciable reverse swing with a scuffed up old ball, swung one into Price's pads to remove him for 11 and two overs later rattled Utseya's stumps with another inswinging delivery to end the innings.
Guptill and McCullum's plan appeared to be to deny Zimbabwe's slow bowlers any early breakthroughs through utmost caution and attack the seamers on a placid pitch. Without a decent total on the board, Zimbabwe's spinners were unable to create any pressure to force a breakthrough, and both batsmen simply waited for the bad ball to put away.
Guptill started in a hurry against Tinashe Panyangara, smashing 14 off from his first six balls and lofting two imperious sixes as his first three overs were dispatched for 25. In comparison, Price's first three yielded just nine, with barely a shot played.
Whatever pressure there might have been at the start of New Zealand's chase - and if there was any, it was minimal - quickly dissipated and even though the spinners maintained generally tight lines, the docile pitch meant there were few alarms for the batsmen. New Zealand eased past fifty in the 12th over with a brace of boundaries off Price and after he had been seen off, with both batsmen settling in, offspinners Utseya and Greg Lamb were easily milked.
With his options severely limited by the under-par total, Chigumbura simply ran out of ideas and the white flag was waved when the field was set back to allow easy singles on both sides of the wicket. Guptill, who proved the more aggressive of the two, punched one into the covers to bring up a 68-ball half-century in the 22nd over and the batsmen barely broke a sweat in bringing the 100 up shortly afterwards.
The match was practically over as a contest at that point and Zimbabwe simply went through the motions as the runs continued to flow, 21 runs from Elton Chigumbura's three overs hastening the end. McCullum reached his own half-century, from 74 balls, and New Zealand cantered home in the 34th over in a flurry of boundaries.
While New Zealand could not have asked for a better team performance, a fighting defeat might at least have spurred the Zimbabweans on to believe they could still take down Sri Lanka or Pakistan. The nature of their capitulation will have sapped the morale from their campaign, however, and they will do well to follow Chigumbura's advice after he said he hoped his side would forget the defeat quickly and move on.
- This is New Zealand's sixth ten-wicket win in ODIs, and their second in World Cups. Their first one was against Kenya in their opening game of this tournament.
- It's Zimbabwe's second ten-wicket defeat in World Cups - their first one was in 1983 against West Indies.
- The 166-run partnership between Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum is New Zealand's fourth-highest for the opening wicket in ODIs, and their highest in World Cups. It's only their fourth century stand for the first wicket in World Cups.
- Guptill and McCullum have an average of 51.38 per completed partnership for the opening wicket in ODIs. Among pairs who've scored more than 500 runs for New Zealand, only two have a higher average.
- Before this knock, McCullum had gone 12 innings without getting a half-century, averaging 17.54 during that period.
- In 46 ODIs against the top nine teams since the beginning of 2008, Zimbabwe have been five down for less than 50 nine times, and lost half their side for less than 100 on 22 occasions.