Zimbabwe cruise to six-wicket win in third one-dayer at Kochi
After a commanding performance at Mohali that saw India's batsmen notch up 319 in 50 overs, the same line-up of batsmen slumped to 191 all out at Kochi. If the last game was a demonstration of how to bat the opposition out of a game, the third one-dayer was an example of how to shoot oneself in the foot.
Electing to bat first, a series of loose strokes at the top of the order saw India relinquish the advantage to a disciplined, determined Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe applied themselves during their batting display as well, winning the encounter by six wickets and taking a valuable 2-1 lead in this five-match series.
Things began to go wrong for India when Dinesh Mongia was dismissed in just the fourth over of the day. It would be fair, however, to say that Mongia was unlucky to be adjudged lbw to medium-pacer Douglas Hondo. Mongia (4) looked disappointed, and replays suggested that the ball may have pitched outside the leg-stump.
VVS Laxman breezed in and out of the middle. Cover-driving as though it were the easiest task in the world, Laxman got the Kochi crowd on their feet and cheering. But, as it often is with things of exceptional beauty or grace, the joy was only fleeting. After making 20 in 24 balls with three fours, Laxman slashed a wide one from Hondo through to keeper Tatenda Taibu.
Just when consolidation was the order of the day, with India struggling on 38/2, Sourav Ganguly came down the wicket and attempted to deposit a Hondo delivery into the nearby Arabian sea. Ganguly missed, Hondo hit, and India were in strife at 49/3 in the 12th over.
Rahul Dravid, often the man to take India out of the woods, was tempted into playing a late cut off Mpumelelo Mbangwa. The ball slid off the face of the bat and appeared to be beating Craig Wishart at a deep slip position. Out flashed the hands, late, quick and in perfect place to snap up a brilliant catch. Dravid (6) had to shake his head in amazement as he walked back to the pavilion.
Mohammad Kaif has waited a long while to get an extended run in the Indian team, all the while working hard on his fitness and battling on the domestic circuit. He showed at Kochi that he is a valuable component of this Indian team. Batting with great application and determination, Kaif compiled 56 (78 balls, 2 fours, 1 six), leading India to a score of 191 - something that looked extremely unlikely earlier in the day.
After failing with the bat in the first two games of this series and scoring a total of zero runs from three balls in two innings, Sanjay Bangar (36 runs, 67 balls 3 fours) was under some pressure to come good. The all-rounder was shaping to make a serious contribution when he came down the track and hit a Douglas Marillier full-toss straight down the throat of Hondo on the mid-wicket fence.
When Bangar was dismissed, with 137 on the board, wickets began to fall with alarming regularity. After the fall of Kaif, just 34 runs were added as India set Zimbabwe a target of 192 for victory. Hondo (4/32) will remember this day for many years to come, and rightly so. The medium-pacer, playing his first game of this series, bowled with good control and troubled batsmen consistently, earning his Man of the Match award.
India began well enough in defence of a virtually indefensible score. Ajit Agarkar and Zaheer Khan bowled with pace, zip and accuracy to remove the first two wickets with just 39 runs on the board.
But those were really the last moments of cheer for the home side.
Alistair Campbell, content to seal up one end, batted with common sense, while Grant Flower was the ideal foil in the middle overs. Even the introduction of Harbhajan Singh did not faze the pair. Campbell, setting his stalls out for a long knock, did not mind biding his time.
Grant Flower, almost permanently in the shadow of his brother, is really an underrated cricketer. With Andy Flower absent, brother Grant was promoted up the order, and he shouldered the responsibility admirably. Using his feet well, Grant Flower worked the ball away into the gaps on the leg-side with ease, going for the big hit every now and then.
After reaching his half-century, Campbell seemed to open up a bit more, playing some exquisite strokes through the on-side. A cover drive off Sarandeep Singh stood out, with Campbell leaning well into the off-side to execute the stroke perfectly. It was, however, the same man who brought about Campbell's dismissal.
How many times do we see a batsman do all the hard work in setting up a team victory before throwing it away just when the job was near completion? Campbell deserved a century, if not at least a big unbeaten fifty, but he fell on 71 (119 balls, 7 fours) as he paved the way for a six-wicket Zimbabwe win at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.
In the 34th over of the innings, Campbell jumped down the track to Sarandeep and was beaten both in the flight and off the wicket. He could only look back in dismay as Ajay Ratra whipped off the bails.
By the time Campbell was dismissed, Zimbabwe had reached 144/3 and needed only a further 48 runs for victory. But Campbell did enter an exclusive club during his innings - he became just the third Zimbabwean to score 5000 one-day runs when he heaved Dinesh Mongia into the mid-wicket stands.
Grant Flower, not looking for anything beyond a safe ride home for Zimbabwe, motored along to 49 (88 balls, 7 fours) before nicking one from Agarkar through to keeper Ajay Ratra. He was unlucky to miss a half-century, but that will not fuss Grant Flower too much.
Eventually, Craig Wishart (17) clattered two sixes, and Zimbabwe clinched victory by six wickets in 44.2 overs, taking a vital 2-1 lead and ensuring that the next one-dayer - at Hyderabad - will see India under immense pressure to win and stay alive in the series.