McCullum leads NZ to win over Zimbabwe
The well-worn script of this ODI cricket series has finally been tossed in the garbage, a fitting resting place.
To New Zealand's credit, they kept their standards high and posted a record total at home, 373-8, to clinch a 3-0 clean-sweep over Zimbabwe with a 202 run victory. The match had an eerily Groundhog Day feel about it as the outgunned tourists were dismissed for 171 in the 44th over. An official crowd figure of 1882 at a usually fizzing McLean Park told the story.
Captain Brendon McCullum was the latest top-order candidate to feast at the Zimbabwe smorgasbord table as the batsmen eye South Africa with their confidence high. Thanks to McCullum's fourth ODI century, 119 off 88 balls, the Black Caps nudged past Monday's record in Whangarei by one run.
Just two higher totals have been registered by New Zealand in ODIs; 402-2 against Ireland in Aberdeen in 2008, and 397-5 against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo in 2005.
It was more of the same from Whangarei; excellent power hitting on a dream surface but with a helping hand. Too many misdirected deliveries, juicy full tosses and some Zimbabwe catching that would have a school third XI coach losing his rag.
Guptill (85) and Nicol (61) backed up their 131 opening stand in Whangarei with a blitz of 153 off 22 overs under the warm sun. But there was more charity on offer.
Nicol had two let-offs, one from a decision review system challenge on four and another from an awful dropped catch by Tino Mawoyo on 10.
McCullum also received a gift on 48 when Regis Chakabva shelled a simple chance. Both drops were off left-armer Brian Vitori whose night got even worse as he took 1-105 off nine overs, joining two New Zealanders in the record books.
His 105 conceded was second equal with Martin Snedden (against England) and Tim Southee (against India) in ODIs, second only to Australia's Mick Lewis who took 0-113 against South Africa in the 2006 epic at Johannesburg.
Elton Chigumbura (1-92 off 10) wasn't much better, while spin duo Ray Price and Prosper Utseya at least applied some pressure in the middle stages and paceman Kyle Jarvis (2-58) was the pick.
Guptill was in imperious touch, hitting seven fours and five sixes in his 69-ball knock, but the innings ended bizarrely when he wandered out of his crease and was stumped. Conversion rates are becoming an issue, amid a dream run of Guptill form.
Jacob Oram (25 off 24) was promoted again, Kane Williamson chipped 38 off 40 then McCullum cut loose, matching Guptill's haul of seven fours and five sixes. His second 50 took just 27 balls, before brother Nathan got in on the act, clouting three successive sixes off Vitori.
Left-armer Michael Bates (1-24 off eight) had the most to prove on his New Zealand ODI debut and he was tidy, claiming Tatenda Taibu as his first wicket. Captain Brendan Taylor cracked 65 off 62 before substitute fielder Colin de Grandhomme took a superb running catch. The Zimbabwean, set to debut in the New Zealand T20 team in Auckland tomorrow, took another catch and also helped in the run out of Malcolm Waller in a promising start.
Doug Bracewell bowled with venom early, then leg-spinner Tarun Nethula came back from a wicketless debut in Whangarei to claim 2-41 off 10 overs in an encouraging performance.
Meanwhile, confirmation that Dean Brownlie will be out for a month with a broken finger heated up the race for the No 5 spot in the first test against South Africa in Dunedin on March 7. It seemingly left Nicol and Jesse Ryder - fitness permitting - the leading candidates. Andrew Ellis will replace Brownlie in the T20 side for matches in Auckland tomorrow and Hamilton on Tuesday.