South Africa stamped their authority firmly on their northern neighbours in the final ODI of Zimbabwe’s tour in Benoni, sealing a massive 272-run win – a record margin of victory for them. On a day for records, South Africa first racked up a monstrous 399 for 6, Jean-Paul Duminy and AB de Villiers both racing to centuries in the course of a record-breaking 219-run stand for the third wicket as the runs flowed without cease. The cracks in Zimbabwe’s brittle attack had been in evidence on the unforgiving tracks in Bloemfontein and Potchefstroom, but the visitors’ bowlers finally crumbled completely, and their batting followed suit.
Duminy and de Villiers’ partnership lasted 31.4 overs at just under seven-an-over as they shared ten fours and seven sixes, with no bowler spared before a tiring de Villiers finally departed for a 99-ball 109. Duminy added three further boundaries and had raced to 129, his highest ODI score, before he eventually fell with the score well past 300. Together they had surpassed the previous South African record for the third wicket, de Villiers and Zimbabwe also having been involved in the previous effort, and also made the third highest overall partnership for South Africa in one-dayers.
Any hope that humid conditions at the start and patches of green on the wicket might assist the seamers had soon evaporated as Ian Nicolson – in just his second match in national colours – came in for some fearful punishment, his first two overs being spanked for 32. The treatment of his new-ball partner Shingirai Masakadza was not nearly as harsh, but captain Elton Chigumbura was still forced to turn to spin as early as the sixth over.
The change brought immediate results, Prosper Utseya luring Graeme Smith out of his crease with a wonderfully flighted offspinner and Hashim Amla suffering his first failure of the series as a lifter on off stump from Shingirai Masakadza found a thin edge and South Africa were pegged back to 59 for 2 after an electric start.
Zimbabwe were visibly lifted by the breakthroughs, but Duminy and de Villiers soon wrested the initiative back as they took up the offensive with great vim and vigour. Nicolson’s return to the attack was greeted with a volley of rifling strikes through the off side, and Graeme Cremer’s third over was spanked for 18 as the batsmen matched each other shot for shot in a race to fifty.
Duminy got there first – from his 53rd ball – but de Villiers’ half-century took just one delivery longer and as their partnership developed the chance of a gettable total for the Zimbabweans began to evaporate. In a display of imperious, almost bored powerhitting, no bowler was spared.
Hamilton Masakadza, the eighth bowler tried by a desperate Chigumbura, finally brought an end to the torment as de Villiers set himself to thrash a sixth six but a skewed top edge landed safely in the hands of the younger Masakadza, running in from the deep midwicket boundary. Duminy departed soon after, but the left-handed trio of Albie Morkel, David Miller and Colin Ingram prolonged the assault and took the score to the brink of 400.
Zimbabwe’s chase was soon in ruins as their batsmen subsided on either side of a plucky 47-run stand between Tatenda Taibu and Craig Ervine. The seamers made the first incision as three wickets fell inside the first seven overs, and Johan Botha then struck twice in an over to tear the heart out of the middle order and Zimbabwe collapsed in a heap to 127 with more than 20 overs left.
If Zimbabwe were to get anywhere near South Africa’s mountainous total, a positive start was vital but they were immediately on the back foot as Brendan Taylor upper-cut Lonwabo Tsotsobe into Rusty Theron’s waiting hands at third man with the score still in single figures. Hamilton Masakadza was not long in following him to the pavilion, splicing an attempted pull to give Theron his second catch at mid-on. Chamu Chibhabha briefly flattered to deceive, swiping a back-of-a-length delivery from Tsotsobe into the stands at deep cover and sending Morkel diving for cover with a rifling straight drive, but when he fell to a low catch by Amla at mid-off Zimbabwe slipped to a perilous 30 for 3.
Taibu and Ervine were determined not to give up without something of a fight, and when they kick-started their partnership with five boundaries in the space of two overs it seemed Zimbabwe were still up for the challenge. But Botha’s introduction sealed both of their fates as his first delivery, a flighted offspinner, deceived Taibu and his sixth rushed between Ervine’s bat and pad to clean-bowl both batsmen.
Immediately afterwards Zimbabwe slipped to 80 for 6, Chigumbura bowled by Theron off the inside edge, and an early finish to the evening appeared a foregone conclusion. Wayne Parnell knocked Keith Dabengwa off his feet with a pinpoint yorker, trapping the batsman lbw in the process, and then bullied Graeme Cremer into a top-edged pull to leave Zimbabwe staring at humiliation.
Some determined resistance from Utseya, and a pair of massive sixes off the younger Masakadza’s bat, briefly kept that fate at bay but Theron’s return soon brought a swift end. More often than not, Zimbabwe have battled gamely with the bat on this tour, but faced with an impossible chase today they were back to their diabolical worst.