Bulawayo: New Zealand beat Zimbabwe by 34 runs on a thrilling final day on Saturday in the one-off Test, overcoming a brilliant century by captain Brendan Taylor.
Taylor led Zimbabwe to 265-3 at the tea break, needing 101 more runs to pull off a remarkable victory at Queens Sports Club, but when he fell to the second ball of the final session the home side collapsed.
Zimbabwe`s middle order and tail crumbled under immense pressure to be all out for 331 with less than six overs of the match remaining.
Doug Bracewell spearheaded New Zealand`s attack with three wickets in the session, removing Regis Chakabva (5), Njabulo Ncube (14) and Ray Price (4) to end with 5-85. Spinner Daniel Vettori chipped in with 3-71, all of the wickets coming in the last session.
"It was a great Test match and I have only played 31," said New Zealand captain Ross Taylor.
"All credit should go to (Tatenda) Taibu and Taylor for the way that they have batted, they made it look easy. But to get that wicket of Taylor after tea was a victory for us, and obviously the way Danny and Bracewell bowled won us the game."
The victory was New Zealand`s first in a series since February 2010.
"It`s always tough to play an international side in their country, that wicket was hard for the bowlers," Ross Taylor said. "You have to give all the credit to Brendan, he had an outstanding series and led from the front. To score a hundred and end up on the losing side is disappointing but going forward, Zim cricket`s fortunes will change."
Brendan Taylor, who scored 50 in the first innings, hit 117 for his second Test century and third of the series across all formats, to add to his three half-centuries. Brendan Taylor smashed eight fours and five sixes from 145 balls before mis-hitting a Chris Martin wide delivery to be caught in the covers by BJ Watling on the second ball after tea to begin the slide.
"It was a great day of Test cricket, we showed a lot of character and determination," Brendan Taylor said. "We could have blocked out the game an hour before the end but we played positive cricket. All in all everyone can be happy with their efforts.”
"Obviously there was a lot of responsibility on my shoulders to see the team through, but with Tatenda still at the crease and other good batsmen still to follow, I was very positive that they will do it. I would have liked to bat another hour and see the team through or draw the game."
Former skipper Taibu played a composed supporting role for his 63, putting on a 108-stand for the fourth wicket with Taylor. He faced 163 balls and cracked six fours and a six before becoming Vettori`s first victim after tea.
"To be able to put the team in a winning position the way we did was a big effort but we are disappointed to have lost," Taibu said.
"The turning point was Brendan," said Zimbabwe coach Alan Butcher. "Had he batted for another hour we would have won, and also Taibu`s dismissal. Our tail is very long and we don`t get a lot of runs from them, it`s something that we need to address. The guys are disappointed but as coach I`m happy with the way we played in the five days.”
"To even contemplate a win under those circumstances shows how much we have progressed as a team."
After Zimbabwe resumed at 61-2 from the fourth day, Brendan Taylor shared a third-wicket partnership of 96 with opener Tino Mawoyo, who also scored at a good rate before being bowled by Martin Guptill for a measured 52.
Mawoyo faced 154 balls and hit four boundaries in an innings in which he gradually opened up.
New Zealand scored 426 and Ross Taylor boldly declared the second innings at 252-8, giving Zimbabwe, which scored 313 in the first, a shot at victory at 3 runs per over.
It was Zimbabwe`s third Test since returning to the five-day format this year after a six-year absence. It beat Bangladesh in a one-off match and then lost to Pakistan.