ZIMBABWE had competed ably for 10 sessions in Harare, but they wilted in the face of reverse swing and prodigious turn after lunch on the fourth day. They lost eight wickets for 83 runs and South Africa cantered to another victory on the road. The 41-run target provided just enough for openers Alviro Petersen and Dean Elgar to have a little fun. Zimbabwe earned one final say when Tendai Chatara disturbed Elgar’s stumps before they were beaten.
The pitch offered consistent assistance to spin and there were ominous signs before lunch when the top-scorer Vusi Sibanda’s defences were breached with the first ball Dane Piedt bowled — a loopy delivery that swerved from outside off to sneak between his bat and pad.
The batsman survived, but the first ball of the offspinner’s second over fetched the wicket as the nighwatchman Donald Tiripano, having been sensible for 62 balls, opted for a slog sweep and ended with his leg stump uprooted.
Piedt was rampant in the second session and finished with 8 for 152, the best match haul by a South Africa spinner on debut. He tied Mark Vermeulen in knots, tempted Brendan Taylor to lob to short leg, and preyed on Sibanda’s patience. His flight was a big factor in the turn he extracted and his line ensured the batsmen were under constant pressure.
At the other end, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel’s threat was enhanced by reverse swing. Vermeulen was set up with steady diet outside off. He shuffled across and groped, displaying all the rust of his 10 years out of Test cricket until an inswinger had him plumb in front.
Sibanda was the set batsman. His face still showed vestiges of the chicken pox he had recovered from, as he concentrated on protecting his off stump from Steyn. He batted on off stump to Piedt and swept from outside it, once for a six over midwicket. Zimbabwe eased to 52 runs at the cost of only one wicket in the morning and it was largely down to some stubborn batting. But the ill-timed charge from Sibanda to lob a return catch to Piedt exemplified Zimbabwe’s falling away since lunch. He was out for 45, his 15th consecutive sub-fifty outing.
Taylor had looked Zimbabwe’s best batsman in the first innings and had generally played Piedt off the back foot or with sweeps during his 93. Here though he was drawn forward by the offspinner, the ball dipped and bounced and the inside edge was smartly grabbed by Dean Elgar at short leg.
Zimbabwe were trailing by 28 but had five wickets in hand. Morkel threw a wrench into that equation with two quick wickets and the hosts were down to their last three men and still behind by 17. The tail, guided by wicketkeeper Richmond Mutumbami, managed to erase the deficit. He led Zimbabwe’s highest partnership of the innings – the 54 runs he collected with John Nyumbu had the Harare crowd roaring.
The rot that set in in the middle session was forgotten as Mutumbami struck four fours after tea. That too, his 69 minutes at the crease were spent in pain after Morkel welcomed him with an attempted yorker that nailed his left toe. He was not seen for South Africa’s chase, with Regis Chakabva taking the gloves. However, the absence of the first-choice keeper did not really hurt Zimbabwe any more than they must have already been hurting.