December 8, 2000

Zimbabwe snatch one wicket victory to keep series alive

Zimbabwe came back more than once, if not actually from the dead, then as nearly so as makes no difference, to pull back a one wicket victory and reduce the series margin to 2-1. It was a remarkable game of cricket with several twists, not least the final one when Zimbabwe lost two wickets in two balls after tying the scores. Henry Olonga calmly tapped the penultimate delivery, by Ajit Agarkar, over mid on to seal a triumph that should certainly shoot down the theory that the Zimbabweans are chokers non pareil. Being their first victory against India in India in twelve tries, it would have been a particularly choice moment to savour.

"Obviously its fantastic for our guys to get their first victory in India. Its a big confidence booster. We're overjoyed", said skipper Heath Streak. "Although we lost a few wickets, our run rate was still up there. Grant and Andy ran particularly well between the wickets and we never let the run rate get too far away from us." Grant Flower wore an impassive look after the game but it was clear that the Man of the Match award here was close to his heart. Asked what he and Andy decided when they came together, he said, "Just to keep our heads. The important thing was to keep wickets in hand since we were playing one less batsman". He said that his batting slump had gone on for longer than he would have liked. "I'm happy the way things have gone. You just have to take each game as it comes but obviously the confidence is there at the moment."

It had looked curtains for the visitors after the Flower brothers and Gavin Rennie had tumbled in the space of seven balls to leave Zimbabwe at 214/6 after 41 overs. Andy Flower (77) and Grant Flower (70) had played sensibly to rescue Zimbabwe from a precarious 52/3. There was hardly a sign of risk as they rattled up the runs and the change of gears, when it came, was barely perceptible. The partnership was worth 158 before it was broken when Grant was fooled by a well disguised slower delivery from Prasad. Rennie was run out first ball and in the same over Andy Flower was caught behind off Tendulkar. Heath Streak and Mluleki Nkala kept them in the game with a 44 run stand and far from being perturbed by his skipper's departure, Nkala struck the next ball from Joshi for a straight six, one bounce into the sightscreen, to send an unambiguous statement of intent to the Indians. He was run out scampering for the winning run and Agarkar bowled Travis Friend next ball to add to the drama but Olonga kept his nerve to hand Zimbabwe a most deserving victory.

Chasing 284 at 5.68 an over, Zimbabwe began brightly with Alistair Campbell looking in excellent touch. He stroked the ball around in the first four overs with an array of sound cricketing shots. There was not the slightest hint of crudeness as he procured five boundaries, four off Venkatesh Prasad. It was Zaheer Khan who made the first breach, producing a rising delivery which kissed the edge of Campbell's bat through to Dahiya. Both Guy Whittall and Stuart Carlisle barely troubled the scorers, bringing the Flowers together with Gavin Rennie the only specialist bat to follow ahead of a lengthy tail. After playing themselves in, the shackles were broken in a Joshi over which went for 16 runs, including a six apiece by both batsmen to bring up the hundred of the innings. Soon afterwards, Yuvraj Singh missed a direct hit at the bowlers end which would sent Andy Flower on his way and that was just the slice of luck which Heath Streak said later was about time went Zimbabwe's way.

Earlier a masterful innings, even by his own lofty standards, from Sachin Tendulkar helped India off to a flyer of a start against Zimbabwe in Jodhpur. The gamble of going into the match with five seamers, and only the spin of Grant Flower as backup didnt seem to have worked as the ball kept disappearing into the wide open spaces in the fast outfield off Tendulkar's blade. The lashing received by the spinners in the previous game from Sourav Ganguly probably led to the drastic overhauling of the attack but as it turned out Ganguly did not last long, departing in the fourth over for just five after left armer Bryan Strang got one to sneak in between bat and pad and uproot his offstump.

Having begun with a succession of pulls off Travis Friend that fetched three fours and a six across a wide arc from fine leg to midwicket, Tendulkar's belligerence was not becalmed by Ganguly's dismissal. His cover driving was quite exquisite, played with a short backlift and minimum follow through, with the ball through the field in a flash. A delicate glide off Strang went between the wicketkeeper and slip with clockwork precision. When he struck Olonga over long off for his second six, Tendulkar had reached his half century in just 37 balls and 39 minutes of exhilarating batting. He was now giving an exemplary demonstration of all the strokes in the book: a straight drive that shaved the stumps at the bowler's end, the turn of the wrists from outside off stump to the midwicket fence and the cut off the backfoot between point and cover. India were 102/1 after 15 overs, seemingly on the way to batting Zimbabwe out of the game.

Hereupon the visitors did a simply commendable job of containing India from thereon. Heath Streak had emphasised the virtues of discipline in his prematch briefing and that was exactly what the bowlers strove to achieve. The fifth seamer Mluleki Nkala did a good job of keeping the batsmen tight and all the others bowled well in their second spells. However it was the spinner Grant Flower who almost singlehandedly put the fetters on the Indian innings, bowling ten overs on the trot for returns of 3/43. Rahul Dravid's (30 in 53 balls) 114 run stand with Tendulkar was broken when Grant Flower had him caught at short fine leg in his first over and he followed it up by collecting a return catch to dispatch the disappointing Yuvraj Singh. After that stunning 84 on debut his honeymoon seems to be well and truly over. Two balls later Hemang Badani was run out, trying to scamper for what would have Tendulkar's 100th run, and being rightly sent back. Tendulkar's 27th ODI hundred duly arrived, off 93 balls, the second fifty being much heavier going then the first. When Reetinder Sodhi was caught at point off Strang, the brittleness of the Indian middle order had been thoroughly exposed and the Zimbabweans had surged back brilliantly into the match.

Sunil Joshi joined Tendulkar at 163/5 to begin the rebuilding process and in a brief knock the lefthander exhibited his favourite pull to deep midwicket on bended knee more than once before being stumped in Grant Flower's last over with the partnership worth 57. The lefthander's 25 in 24 balls had been vital in restoring the momentum of the innings aborted by the middle order collapse. The responsibility was Tendulkar's to marshal the tail through to a competitive total but he was caught at short fine leg as he tried to improvise a shot over fine leg for 146 (153 balls, 15 fours and 2 sixes). At 235/8, Zimbabwe skipper Heath Streak would have had illusions of restricting India to 250. The last over started with India on 256/8 but that last over and more precisely the last four balls altered the equations dramatically. A quite sensational display of clean hitting by Zaheer Khan overshadowed, if that is possible, even Tendulkar and lift India to a substantive 283/8. Khan smote four successive sixes, interrupted by a wide, off a hapless Henry Olonga and as the ball disappeared for the fourth time, so one thought did Zimbabwe's chances. We were wrong.

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