South Africa cruised to a 45-run victory over Zimbabwe today in a one-day international designed to dust away cobwebs ahead of a tour by England that begins in five days.
A patient 80 from Hashim Amla spearheaded the Proteas to 295-5 off 50 overs at Willowmoore Park in Benoni on Sunday where scorching morning heat gave way to rain and a 40-minute delay before the game drifted to an inevitable conclusion.
Reeling at 48-5, Zimbabwe staged a magnificent recovery thanks to a record 188-run partnership against South Africa between wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu (103 not out) and Stuart Matsikenyeri (86) and they were 250-6 by the close.
Man-of-the-match Taibu faced 112 balls and struck six fours and three sixes in a display that thrilled him and left South Africa coach Mickey Arthur and skipper Graeme Smith with some head scratching to do over the bowling.
Smith blamed the rain interruption.
"We were fantastic for 80 overs and then the rain delay upset our rhythm. I believe we can take a lot more positives than negatives from the game," said Smith.
Zimbabwe skipper Prosper Utseya was also happy: "We did well because at one stage I did not think we would make 100 runs. I hope my players learn from the experience and do even better on Tuesday."
Stung by criticism of pre-tournament rust when they flopped as Champions Trophy hosts last month, South Africa play Zimbabwe again in Centurion before a first joust with England three days later at Twenty20 level.
England, who hammered Eastern Cape Warriors by eight wickets today in their second warm-up game, will play two Twenty20 fixtures, five ODIs and four Tests during a tour stretching to mid-January.
Runs flowed freely at the start and finish of the South Africa innings, but they went 54 balls without a boundary in between as veteran Zimbabwe spinner Ray Price caused discomfort with a three-wicket haul.
Amla struck six fours in a 131-minute knock, AB de Villiers fired a run-a-ball 51 and Albie Morkel struck three sixes and three fours in his quickfire unbeaten 50 during 39 minutes at the crease.
Smith, expected to open the batting against England with veteran Jacques Kallis, made 35 before being out in an innings where many Proteas could have survived longer had they exercised greater care.
Left-arm orthodox spinner Price captured the wickets of Smith, De Villiers and unimpressive Mark Boucher (18) on a slow pitch, but received little support with Chris Mpofu (0-70) especially expensive.
Zimbabwe, out for 44 in an ODI against Bangladesh five days ago, had just 11 runs on the scoreboard when Mark Vermeulen was heading back to the pavilion and debutant Ryan McLaren and Dale Steyn then snatched two wickets apiece.
But with Zimbabwe on the rack, South Africa could not finish them off and Taibu and Matsikenyer eventually made merry before a sparse crowd as many spectators headed home during the rain-induced break.
Smith shuffled his bowling pack, but the Zimbabwean middle-order heroes grew in confidence and early satisfaction at simply surviving gave way to aggressive batting.
The partnership was finally split three overs from the end when a McLaren yorker foxed Matsikenyeri after a superb 86 off 87 balls that included eight fours and a six. AFP