Going by form and strength, New Zealand were expected to get past the Zimbabweans, even though the latter were always going to be competitive. But, the underrated hosts shocked the World Cup runners up with a scintillating batting display in the first one-dayer to go 1-0 up. New Zealand fought back with all their might in the second match to square the series. But, with Zimbabwe already having won the opening match, the series has been thrown wide open. Everything will now come down to the final ODI to be played at Harare on Friday. Both teams will have to put out their best game to clinch the series.
Zimbabwe have had a mixed time of it over the course of the two matches. Their batting was top notch in the first game, chasing a 300 plus score, but they were equally poor batting first in the second match, as a result of which they handed an easy victory to New Zealand. Zimbabwe will need to bat more like they did in the opening match, forgetting the second game as a nightmare. They have the men to do it, with a good mix of youth and experience. At the top of the order, the maturity of Hamilton Masakadza and the exuberance of Chamu Chibhabha complement each other perfectly. They are in good form as well.
The middle order crumbled in the last game, but Craig Ervine was superb in the chase in the opening match as the hosts stunned the Kiwis. Skipper Elton Chigumbura has also been among the runs. They would also expect more from the likes of Regis Chakabva. Sean Williams hasn't had much to do in the series so far. But, everyone is aware of how destructive he can be on his day. Zimbabwe would be hoping that he comes good in case the chance arises. Bowling is definitely a worry for the hosts. Tinashe Panyangara was the only one who made an impression in the last game. The fact that they did not pick up a single wicket would however worry the Zimbabweans.
New Zealand, on the other hand, would be extremely pleased with the way things panned out in the last game as they squared the series. They impresses with the ball after a poor first outing. Ish Sodhi was very good with his spinners, and the hosts' batting was found out. Nathan McCullum had another pleasant game, and although he wasn't among the wickets, he kept things tight. However, some worries for the Kiwis remain in the pace bowling department. In the absence of Tim Southee and Trent Boult, the likes of Mitchell McClenaghan, Matt Henry and James Neesham have struggled.
The Kiwis have been much more consistent with their batting. Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson came up with very good knocks as New Zealand notched up 300 plus in the opening ODI. Openers Tom Latham and Martin Guptill got among the runs in the next game. In fact, their hundreds meant no other New Zealand batsman was needed to take strike in the second match. Of late, Grant Elliott has been very consistent for the team, coming up with quick cameos. Batting is definitely New Zealand's strong point in the series even in the absence of McCullum, and they will be depending heavily on the same to clinch the series.
-- By A Cricket Analyst