South Africa were always expected to dominate in the game against Zimbabwe on Sunday at Hamilton. They did the same, and registered a comfortable 62-run win. But, Zimbabwe would be pleased with their performance as well. As mentioned in the preview to the match, their main task in the game would be to compete and give the big brother some moments of nerves. They were successful in doing the same both while bowling, and later in the day with the bat, though a victory never really came within their sight. South Africa, on the other hand, would be relieved that they got home without much trouble.
The best phase for Zimbabwe in the match was when they claimed the first four South African wickets with less than 100 on the board after bowling first. South Africa have one of the strongest batting line-ups in the world, and to reduce them to 83 for 4 was some achievement for the African bowlers. The wickets included big names like Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, skipper AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis. Chatara, Panyangara, Chigumbura and Kamungoza bowled well to claim a wicket each. At that stage, Zimbabwe would have had hopes of keeping South Africa under 300.
Lack of experience in the Zimbabwe bowling line-up and the strength in South Africa's lower-order came to the fore. The same Zimbabwean bowlers who shone early on in the innings came a cropper once David Miller and JP Duminy started going after them. Both Miller and Duminy are key components in South Africa's batting order, and the team would be pleased to see them among the runs. It sets them up well for the rest of the series. Although, the South Africans would have liked to put up a more convincing effort, one of the positives from the game was definitely the fact that Miller and Duminy got a chance to get tons.
After having their moments with the ball, Zimbabwe impressed with the bat as well. In spite of having lost Sikandar Raza early, Chamu Chibhabha and Hamilton Masakadza featured in a brilliant century partnership. Their alliance took Zimbabwe to a position from where they could dream of running South Africa close. The most impressive aspect of Zimbabwe's chase was the ease with which they dealt with Dale Steyn. Going into the match, the South African spearhead was Zimbabwe's biggest worry. But, not only did Zimbabwe keep Steyn away from the wickets, they also scored runs off him at will. This will give Zimbabwe immense confidence heading into future games.
Zimbabwe could have done even better had their middle and lower order shown some resilience. After Chibhabha and Masakadza fell for impressive knocks, Brendan Taylor was dismissed for a run-a-ball 40. A lot was expected of Sean Ervine and Craig Ervine, but their failures ended up hurting the Zimbabwean. If only a couple of players had carried on for them like Miller and Duminy did for SA, things could have been closer. But, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel made up for Steyn's off-day, and Imran Tahir exposed Zimbabwe's weakness against spin to bowl South Africa to a relieving win.
--By A Cricket Analyst