Bulawayo: Zimbabwe’s top order finally showed some backbone on Sunday but the hosts were nevertheless facing an uphill battle in the second Test after New Zealand posted an enormous total on day two at Queens Sports Club.
After spending the better part of two days in the field as New Zealand racked up 582 for four declared, Zimbabwe responded with a dogged stand between openers Tino Mawoyo and Chamu Chibhabha to go to stumps on 55 without loss.
It was a much improved start for the hosts, who slumped to 36 for four and 17 for four during an innings defeat in the first Test, and gave them some confidence after their bowlers had proved ineffective on a docile pitch.
Zimbabwe endured a tough first day in the field as New Zealand put on 329 for two, and their fortunes with the ball on the second day were little better.
Although they dismissed both Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls in the opening session, Williamson had already reached three figures to become the first New Zealand batsman to score centuries against all of the other nine Test nations.
A day shy of his 26th birthday, he was also the youngest of the 13 Test batsmen to achieve the feat, and did it in fewer Tests than anyone else.
The New Zealand captain did, however, depart in a soft fashion when he guided a wide delivery from Mike Chinouya straight to gully to fall for 113.
Nicholls scored just 15 before he misjudged the length of a Graeme Cremer delivery and was trapped lbw whilst trying to sweep.
Although that gave Zimbabwe some respite, it also brought Ross Taylor and BJ Watling together and the pair picked up where they had left off in the first Test, when they compiled a 253-run partnership.
On Sunday they added an unbroken 193 for the fifth wicket, with Taylor backing up the 173 not out that he scored in the first Test with an unbeaten 124.
Watling was 83 not out when New Zealand went to tea, but turned down an offer from Williamson to join Taylor and Tom Latham on the list of New Zealanders with centuries in both Tests, allowing the captain to declare instead.
“I think it was more important to give ourselves the time to bowl,” said Watling. “We had enough runs on the board and we knew it was going to be hard work to take 20 wickets.”
That proved to be the case when Zimbabwe’s openers shut up shop in the first part of their reply, scoring just 20 runs from the first 19 overs as they successfully saw off the new ball.
That allowed them to open up in the last 10 overs of the day, with Chibhabha moving to 31 and Mawoyo reaching stumps on 20.
“We’re going to come up with some plans overnight and hopefully come out and pick up a few wickets early tomorrow,” said Watling.
“The wicket is lower and slower than it was in the first Test, and we’re going to have to play the long game.”