June 24, 2001

India cruise to nine wicket win over Zimbabwe

A disappointing pitch, a disappointing Zimbabwe team and consequently a disappointing match. India were highly impressive, though, and after bowling Zimbabwe out for 133 at Harare Sports Club, they cantered home by nine wickets in the second match of the Coca Cola Cup on Sunday.

The good news for Zimbabwe was that Heath Streak was back at the helm, the basic matters that had prompted him to resign having been resolved. He and coach Carl Rackemann have now been added to the selection panel and certain other matters are to be attended to. ZCU president Peter Chingoka has pledged his support and asked him to stay on as captain. One would have hoped that Zimbabwe would be encouraged by these developments to play better than they had done against West Indies. Not at all.

In the Zimbabwe team, Dirk Viljoen and Bryan Strang replaced Brian Murphy and Mluleki Nkala. Unfortunately the same pitch was used for this match as the previous day, and it had been watered overnight, leaving some moisture and promising help for the bowlers. Lady Luck has an inflexible decree that under such circumstances Zimbabwe should always lose the toss, and Sourav Ganguly naturally put Zimbabwe in to bat. The gate takings from this match are to be allocated to Eddo Brandes' benefit fund, and despite the poor Zimbabwean performance the crowd seemed to enjoy themselves.

With the second ball of the match, without a run on the board, Ashish Nehra bowled a beautiful delivery that moved away and had Alistair Campbell snicking a catch to the keeper. Dion Ebrahim and Stuart Carlisle appeared to be handling excellent bowling with skill when the latter (6) snicked Zaheer Khan to second slip.

Grant Flower immediately lashed a four through the covers and seemed intent on hitting the team out of trouble, but then unluckily chopped Khan on to his stumps. Zimbabwe were deep in trouble at 20 for three and once again the pitch was playing a significant part in deciding the match. India used the conditions superbly, but Zimbabwe should have batted better than they did.

Guy Whittall had a lucky escape when on one, with Laxman failing to hold a low slip chance. Nehra, in a magnificent spell and moving the ball predominantly into the batsman, was the unlucky bowler. Ajit Agarkar profited, as Whittall when on 7 lashed a catch to third man off a wide delivery, while Nehra soon picked up Viljoen (1), flashing outside off stump to be caught in the slips. Zimbabwe were 39 for five in the 13th over, but Ebrahim was still hanging in there, showing true fighting spirit.

Nehra completed his ten overs without a break for 33 runs and two wickets, but aggravated a hamstring strain in his final over which cost nine runs. A recovery was in progress, with Streak standing firm, but Ebrahim again failed to reap the benefits of his efforts, caught at slip off another fine delivery from Agarkar for 32. Laxman, the catcher, damaged a finger in the process.

Further disaster struck as an over-enthusiastic attempt at a single, not the first, led to the crucial run-out of Streak for 16, courtesy of a fine throw by substitute Reetinder Singh Sodhi. At 82 for seven, this virtually ended Zimbabwe's hopes of a competitive total.

Blignaut and Travis Friend played quietly, trying to restore the balance, but as soon as Blignaut tried to take the initiative he skied a catch off Ganguly to be caught at deepish mid-off for 13. In the same over Friend (7) edged to slip; 104 for nine.

Tatenda Taibu, who deserves to bat higher than number ten, twice hit Ganguly through the covers for cracking fours and showed considerable maturity for 19 not out before Strang was bowled by Agarkar for 4, giving Zimbabwe the depressing total of 133. Agarkar finished with three for 24, while Nehra, the best of the bowlers, and Khan took two wickets each.

Ganguly's poor international form continued, as he edged a fine delivery from Streak to wicket-keeper Taibu in the first over for two. Zimbabwe, knowing their minimal chance of victory required them to take all ten wickets, brought all their fielders inside the circle, even to Sachin Tendulkar, to start with. It was not effective when Friend pitched short to Tendulkar, who hooked him for two boundaries and glanced a third.

Zimbabwe had no answer to Tendulkar, as on this sluggish pitch he drove boundaries on the up with perfect timing, despite Zimbabwe's attempts to seal his leg-side shots. Several straight drives were effortless and magnificent. On the debit side, he twice came close to giving catches through his eagerness to hit to leg. He was partnered by Hemang Badani, promoted in place of the injured Laxman. The small target put them under no pressure and the enthusiastic crowd was able to enjoy a classic exhibition by the Indian master.

Badani, although overshadowed by sheer genius, also contributed some stylish drives and a pull for six off Strang. When the end came, with almost half the overs in hand, Tendulkar had 70 and Badani 52, reaching his fifty with a pull for four off Strang to win the match.