Doug Bracewell’s five-wicket debut haul crushed a spirited effort from Zimbabwe as New Zealand won the one-off Test match by 34 runs on Saturday.
Bracewell, 21, and Daniel Vettori claimed three wickets apiece in the final session to deny Zimbabwe what would have been a famous victory, as the hosts were bowled out for 331 in a tense finale.
It was a heartbreaking end for Zimbabwe, who had threatened to complete the highest run chase in their history, as captain Brendan Taylor led from the front with a superb hundred, only for Bracewell’s 5-for-83 to turn the match.
The captain was ably assisted by half-centuries from Tino Mawoyo and Tatenda Taibu, but ultimately Zimbabwe’s long tail proved costly as they lost their last seven wickets in the final session.
Zimbabwe began the day on 61 for two in pursuit of 366 for victory, but by tea they had progressed to 265 for three — just 101 runs from their target — and the win looked well within their grasp.
However Taylor’s dismissal to the second ball of the final session ended a 108-run partnership with Taibu and changed the complexion of the contest as Taibu was forced to consolidate with new batsman Malcolm Waller.
Taylor had controversially survived a potential catch by BJ Watling at deep point just before the tea break, when he stood his ground and was given the benefit of the doubt when replays proved inconclusive.
He failed to learn his lesson though and there was no doubt about a clean catch the second time around when he repeated a careless stroke and was sent on his way for 117.
Taibu and Waller took a more patient approach as the second new ball caused problems, only for Taibu to fall into the trap set by Daniel Vettori and depart for 63.
The left-arm spinner came over the wicket to bowl into the rough outside leg stump and tempt Taibu into the sweep and a top edge was easily pouched at deep backward square leg.
Regis Chakabva led a charmed life, surviving an LBW from Bracewell thanks to a no-ball and a run-out when the appeal was sportingly withdrawn by New Zealand because Vettori had blocked Waller’s path.
Yet his luck ran out when he was brilliantly caught by wicketkeeper Reece Young off the bowling of Bracewell, exposing Zimbabwe’s lengthy tail.
Nevertheless, the hosts continued to go for the win, even as they continued to lose wickets, rather than simply trying to play for the draw.
“There were a lot of nerves, but the guys carried on and kept trying to push for the win and that’s why we’re all very proud of each other,” Taylor said. “We could have shut up shop with an hour and a bit left in the game, but the guys were still fairly positive, so it was just a good positive day today and the guys can hold their heads high.”
The ploy failed to work for Zimbabwe though and the game was effectively up when Waller was trapped LVW by Vettori for 29.
Vettori claimed the final wicket in his next over when he trapped Chris Mpofu LBW to wrap up the victory with 35 deliveries left in the day, giving Ross Taylor a win in his first Test as captain.
“It’s a strange game this Test cricket, getting seven wickets in the last session. We knew we could do it, but it was a hell of a Test match,” Taylor said. “Full credit to Zimbabwe because they gave us a great fight and they went out for the win, so it was a great spectacle out there.”