Yuvraj and Dhoni take India home
48.1 overs India 255 for 6 (Yuvraj 120, Dhoni 67*) beat Zimbabwe 250 for 9 (Taibu 71, Coventry 74, Agarkar 3-34)by 4 wickets
Yuvraj Singh stroked a fabulous hundred and Mahendra Singh Dhoni bludgeoned a 63-ball 67 as India overcame another rotten display from the top order to ease to a four-wicket win over Zimbabwe in the final league match of the Videocon Cup. Yuvraj and Dhoni plundered 158 from just 140 balls to utterly transform a game that had been Zimbabwe's for the taking. It didn't help that Tatenda Taibu, who had sparked Zimbabwe's batting revival with a spirited 71, made a hash of a stumping off Sean Williams when Dhoni had made just 22, with India still 111 short of victory.
Yuvraj, though, was magnificent, pacing his innings beautifully - the 50 took 70 balls - before exploding to life in the final overs when four and sixes rained down. Zimbabwe's bowlers, who had performed so commendably for 30 overs, simply had no answer to the all-out assault. The disappointment would have been particularly acute for Taibu, whose 116-run partnership with Charles Coventry had allowed Zimbabwe to post a challenging total on an excellent batting pitch after Sourav Ganguly had sent them in.
Taibu's mood was very different when India's pursuit started in dismal fashion, with Blessing Mahwire bowling both Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid. And when Venugopal Rao was run out following a mix-up with Yuvraj, India were 160 adrift with only the lower order left in the pavilion. Rao's sedate 27 had stemmed the initial rot, and he played some pleasing drives while adding 55 for the fifth wicket. Yuvraj too found fluency after a hesitant start, as India sought to rebuild the ruins of an innings.
Sehwag had commenced with a clatter of boundaries, but both he and Dravid paid the price for lazy stand-and-deliver drives. In between, Ganguly was superbly taken by Vusi Sibanda at point, as the chase lost momentum in spectacular fashion, and the descent into despair was accelerated by Andy Blignaut, who followed up a blistering innings of 41 with a delivery that caught Mohammad Kaif plumb in front and stuck on the crease.
Zimbabwe had also started like a team in strife. Already missing Heath Streak, Taibu found himself at the crease with the white ball still shiny and hard, after RP Singh had accounted for both Vusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza. He was initially uncertain coming onto the front foot against the quicker bowlers, but with Brendon Taylor taking it upon himself to thump a few leg-side fours, Taibu had time to play himself in. And though he lost Taylor to a superb piece of fielding from Yuvraj, he made light of it with some splendid strokeplay against the slower bowlers, smashing Harbhajan back over his head and them swatting Jai Prakash Yadav over midwicket.
With options running out, Ganguly pressed himself into service only to see a disastrous first over go for 15 as both Taibu and Coventry attacked with scant regard for the situation. Kartik came on, but was powerless to stop the runs, and a Coventry slog that disappeared way over midwicket was indicative of how Zimbabwe's positive approach had turned the match on its head.
With runs coming steadily and the rate approaching five-an-over, it was left to Yadav to script the breakthrough, and Taibu's magnificent effort ended with a poor swish against the line. But that only exacerbated India's plight as Blignaut came in to play a blinder. Yadav's second spell was economical, but both RP Singh and Kartik - who also let slip a chance off Coventry - were given a beating as Blignaut and Coventry upped the ante.
Agarkar, who had bowled an exceptional first spell, also suffered in his second, but when a low full toss fetched him Coventry's wicket, the match turned. Harbhajan and a rush of blood combined to get rid of Blignaut, and the runs dried up as Agarkar picked up some cheap wickets at the end. By then though, Zimbabwe had set a challenging target, one that was so nearly a banana skin for an Indian side still searching for a semblance of consistency.
Sibanda lbw RP Singh 1 (4 for 1) Trapped in front by one that nipped back.
Masakadza c and b RP Singh 0 (4 for 2) Looped up to the bowler's right off bat, pad and glove.
Taylor run out (Yuvraj) 26 (50 for 3) Sent back after calling for a risky single, and caught well short of his crease by a sensational off-balance throw.
Taibu b Yadav 71 (166 for 4) Heaved at a ball that pitched in line with the stumps, and missed completely.
Coventry c Kartik b Agarkar 74 (227 for 5) Yorker-turned-full toss smacked straight to long-off.
Blignaut stumped Dhoni b Harbhajan 41 (232 for 6) Came down the track for the big heave, missed by a long way.
Sean Williams run out (Agarkar) 8 (246 for 7) Short of his ground despite a full-length dive, after a fine throw from deep midwicket.
Ewing lbw Kartik 8 (248 for 8) Rapped in front by the arm ball.
Utseya b Agarkar 0 (249 for 9) Played all over a yorker.
Mahwire b Agarkar 2 (250 all out) Missed a full delivery that zoned in on to the stumps.
Sehwag b Mahwire 12 (15 for 1) Inside-edged one on to his stumps.
Ganguly c Sibanda b Ireland 2 (23 for 2) Slapped one to the right of point, beautifully caught.
Dravid b Mahwire 6 (34 for 3) Carbon copy of the Sehwag dismissal, undone by minimal footwork.
Kaif lbw Blignaut 8 (36 for 4) Caught on the crease by one that shaped back.
Rao run out (Debangwa) 27 (91 for 5) Sent back by Yuvraj, caught yards short of the crease.
Yuvraj c Dabengwa b Blignaut 120 (249 for 6) Leading edge ballooned to point.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Cricinfo