Chris Mpofu took 4-92 and Vusimuzi Sibanda hit an unbeaten half-century to spearhead Zimbabwe’s fightback against New Zealand on day two of the one-off Test on Wednesday.
Opener Sibanda was 53 not out to guide Zimbabwe to 82-1 at stumps at Queens Sports Club, 344 runs behind New Zealand’s first-innings 426 all out.
Mpofu was instrumental in dragging New Zealand back after the visitors were 275-3 at the start of the day and then 401-5 and on course for an ominous score.
The seamer took career-best innings figures, and Sibanda followed up with a steady start to keep Zimbabwe in the game in its third Test since returning from a six-year absence from the five-day format.
New Zealand is playing its first Test since February and looking for a first win since early last year.
“I think we more than performed today,” Zimbabwe coach Alan Butcher said. “Getting eight wickets for about 164 and being 82-1, I think we won the day, but there is three days to go. Winning one day is not enough. We still have a lot of work to do, but this guy [Mpofu] was terrific throughout his spells.”
After a tough first day, Zimbabwe’s fortune began to turn in the second over of the day when New Zealand skipper Ross Taylor was dismissed without adding to his 76 overnight.
Dean Brownlie made 63 on test debut for the Black Caps, hitting seven fours in a maiden half-century and sharing partnerships of 45 with B.J. Watling (39) and 81 with former Black Caps skipper Daniel Vettori (40).
However, Mpofu removed Watling and veteran left-arm spinner Ray Price ended the Brownlie-Vettori combination to ensure the visitors did not run away.
Mpofu followed up with three more wickets in the second session to put the brakes on New Zealand, which lost its last five wickets within 25 runs to be all out at tea.
“We are happy with what we have on the board,” Brownlie said. “Now we have to take 20 wickets, whether we bat again or not.”
Vettori made an early breakthrough for New Zealand when he trapped Tino Mawoyo LBW for five, with Zimbabwe 24-1 in reply, but Sibanda hit seven fours and Hamilton Masakadza was 22 not out to chip away at New Zealand’s lead and take the home team to the close.
Boosted by Taylor’s early exit and a downpour overnight, which spiced up a placid pitch and delayed the start by 45 minutes, Zimbabwe’s bowlers led the recovery after they were dominated by Martin Guptill’s century and Taylor’s unbeaten half-century on Tuesday.
Taylor went 11 balls into play when he reached for a wide half-volley from Njabulo Ncube and edged to wicketkeeper Regis Chakabva.
Brownlie impressed on debut and Vettori attacked with style on his return to New Zealand’s team for the first time in seven months, carving out five fours and a six in his 58-ball 40 before he edged Mpofu to Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor in the slips. He went just six runs after Brownlie had departed.
Mpofu wrapped up the tail for his 4-92, improving on his -previous-best innings return of 4-109 as he bowled Doug Bracewell for a duck on debut and had Jeetan Patel caught in the covers.
Sibanda anchored the early part of Zimbabwe’s first innings for just his second Test 50, giving Zimbabwe hope of rescuing a match that appeared to be out of the home team’s grasp one-and-a-half days in.
Vettori had 1-23 for New Zealand, while Bracewell’s eventful debut saw him bowl an incredible 39 balls before the first run was scored off him in Test cricket.