New Zealand received a wake-up call from Zimbabwe, as the minnows redeemed themselves with a brave performance before falling short by 27-runs in the Videocon Cup tri-series One-Day International in Harare on Wednesday.
After a tardy batting performance that saw them being bowled out for 238 without completing the full quota of overs, New Zealand encountered a spirited chase by Zimbabwe before being dismissed for 211 in the penultimate over.
All-rounder Andy Blignaut flew the flag high for the beleaguered hosts as he first broke the back of the Kiwi line-up with four wickets for 46 and followed it up with a fighting half-century.
Blignaut's valiant 50 came from 47 balls and contained two sixes, including one slashed over third man off fast bowler Shane Bond in the closing stages of the innings as he took the fight to the rival camp.
Bond returned with figures of four for 17 while Kyle Mills (2-34) and Daniel Vettori (2-46) shared the spoils.
It was New Zealand's third victory of the series and confirmed their place in the final on September 6.
But their fragile top order is a matter of concern. The Kiwis had to rely on a 62-run fifth-wicket stand between Nathan Astle (61) and Scott Styris (63) to bail them out of a precarious 67 for four.
New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming opted for the brave course of giving his batsmen a practice stint on the tricky wicket but the conditions were largely overwhelming for them.
It all started in the first over when Lou Vincent was caught behind the wicket off Heath Streak. But Astle and Styris eked out important stands of 62 and 79 runs for the fifth and eighth wicket, and with a valuable cameo of 47 from 47 balls from Daniel Vettori, New Zealand were able to bat till the last over of the innings.
Apart from Blignaut, Gavin Ewing (3 for 31) and Anthony Ireland (2 for 61) played good supporting hands.
Zimbabwe, in reply, lost Brendon Taylor (0) and Chibabha (0) with only five on the board but then there were moments at the crease that kept the vocal crowd at the Harare Sports Club interested.
Vusi Sibanda (21 off 30 balls) looked extremely good before foolishly going for a second run, and Jacob Oram, from the off-side sweeper's position, caught him short of the crease.
Tatenda Taibu (16) was done in by an armer from Daniel Vettori and when Stuart Carlisle, after a rather painful stay of 30 from 81 balls, was bowled out to debutant Jatin Patel, Zimbabwe were 87 for five.
Heath Streak (18) became Vettori's second victim when he was stumped yards down the track to leave Zimbabwe gasping at 93 for six.
Coventry and Blignaut had an entertaining seventh-wicket stand of 63 from 42 balls which was highlighted by two successive sixes by Coventry off Patel.
The stand was broken when Coventry hoisted a catch off Kyle Mills for 35, made from 21 balls with two fours and two sixes. Zimbabwe were now 156 for seven.
But the momentum was further carried forward by Blignaut and Gavin Ewing (12), who pushed the score to 188 for 7 when Bond was introduced for his second spell.
Bond struck with his very first ball when Ewing holed out to long on. Blignaut injected a sense of excitement when he cut Bond to point boundary for a flat six.
It also raised his half century from a mere 44 balls, with three fours and two sixes. He also departed in the same over and it was all over for Zimbabwe.
Earlier, electing to bat, the visitors lost wickets at regular intervals to find themselves in a spot of bother at 149 for seven before Styris and Vettori pulled the team out of the pits with a 79-run partnership for the eighth wicket.
The hard hitting Nathan Astle was the other notable contributor with an 81-ball 61 on a difficult batting track.
The Kiwis, who had blasted 397 in the opening match against Zimbabwe, found the going a little tough this time around on account of the spongy nature of the pitch.
They lost Vincent in the very first over, leaving captian Stephen Fleming (23) and Astle to negotiate the early overs of Heath Streak and Anthony Ireland.
Fleming and Astle promised a revival when they took the score to 39 by the 8th over before Fleming was disappointed to see an intended drive ending up as a catch to Andy Blignaut.
Astle produced his customary strokes square of the wicket but he lost two more frontline partners at the other end as New Zealand slipped to 67 for 4 in the 15th over.
Craig McMillan (5) was caught in the slips off Blignaut while Hamish Marshall (7) cut fiercely only to be brilliantly caught at third man off Ireland.
The fifth wicket produced 61 runs before Astle edged off-spinner Gavin Ewing behind the stumps to wicketkeeper captain Tatenda Taibu.
Astle's 61 contained nine fours and his dismissal triggered a spate of success for Zimbabwe, Ewing in particular.
Ewing was first frustrated to see a return catch off Jacob Oram being denied by umpire Russell Tiffin but struck off the very next ball when he won a leg before verdict against the batsman, attempting a reverse sweep.
Brendon McCullum (2), a terrific influence for New Zealand low down the order, did not succeed for a change when he was caught and bowled by Ewing to leave New Zealand reeling at 149 for 7.