November 13, 2000

Kanitkar makes unbeaten ton as Zimbabwe are frustrated on opening day

If Zimbabwe's first tour game was disappointing in terms of dazzling brilliance, the second match against the Board President's XI was disappointing simply because skipper Heath Streak had to sit out. Named in the squad half an hour before play, one was surprised to see Guy Whittall going out to toss. A quick chat with coach Carl Rackemann revealed that Streak was running high temperature and had a sore throat to boot. In his absence, the Zimbabweans had to open with the erratic Henry Olonga and the inexperienced Travis Friend after they lost the toss. Taken to task in various degrees by batsmen through the order, the Zimbabwe bowlers had little to show for at the end of the day. Kanitkar had an impressive if conservative 118 not out, Shewag had a stroke filled 60, Dahiya a satisfying fifty and Badani a confident 35. All the Zimbabweans had was the ignominy of conceding 314 runs, including 42 boundaries and 4 sixes to a very ordinary Board President's XI side.

Opening the batting for the Board President's XI, Ravneet Ricky and Vijay Dahiya were circumspect. Usually a strokemaker, Ricky was unusually quiet and this was a precursor to his downfall. Flashing hard at a delivery from Friend that should have been left well alone, Ricky found himself walking back to the pavilion after Trevor Madondo at third slip had taken a smart catch.

Free stroking Tamil Nadu southpaw Hemang Badani walked out to the middle and dealt in boundaries. Playing with a straight bat, Badani hit the ball cleanly past the infield. Opening his account with an off drive that left the midoff fielder gaping, Badani grew in confidence with every boundary. After playing four more sizzling boundaries through the off side, one through midwicket and a clipped six over squareleg, Badani fell to Paul Strang. An unfortunate dismissal at best, Badani played above a ball from Strang that kept low and scooted through to hit the stumps. He had made 35, and was in much the same position as his limited overs debut for India. On that occasion, the Asia Cup in Dhaka, he made 35 against Bangladesh. There too, he looked good for more.

Badani's dismissal gave skipper Hemant Kanitkar a chance to take guard and catch the selectors' eye. He played accordingly, mixing enterprise with abundant caution. Although he never looked on top of the bowling, he always looked like he put a high price on his wicket. Vijay Dahiya too was solid enough. After beginning slowly, he became impatient for a period and played a few loose shots. However he lived to tell the tale and made his way to fifty. At exactly that score, a brilliant catch from Grant Flower put an end to his innings. Playing his favourite shot, the chip over covers, Dahiya watched in amazement as Grant Flower ran back a few yards and plucked the ball out of the air.

Dahiya's dismissal was a blessing in disguise for the local team. Firstly, Dahiya having made a half century, might have just done enough to book a place in the Test side. Secondly, this brought the flashy Virender Shewag to the crease. His style of batting was perfectly suited to the insipid leg spin the Zimbabweans were dishing out. Young Brian Murphy in particular came in for a lot of stick. Being young is often touted as a huge virtue in cricket circles. However, youth almost always brings with it healthy amounts of inexperience, even immaturity. This was certainly the case with Murphy. After delivering a healthy number of full tosses outside off stump, he switched to a line well outside leg stump. The result was the same. Shewag had raced to 60 off just 78 balls before he ran out of luck. Attempting to hit Paul Strang over long on, he only managed to find Olonga on the fence.

At 4/227, Board President's XI were still well on their way to a good score despite the loss of four top order batsmen. Kanitkar, as is his wont in tour warm up games, plodded carefully on towards his century. He briefly enjoyed the company of Abbas Ali, a Madhya Pradesh batsman who has made very few ripples in Indian cricket so far. Ali made a fleeting 16 and it was as though Kanitkar hardly noticed his coming and going.

With Abhijit Kale as partner, Kanitkar tonked a Grant Flower delivery over mid on and completed his century. His effort took over three hours and included 11 hits that reached the boundary. The skipper is indeed in a strange situation. Although he keeps getting picked to play warm up games against touring sides, and indeed makes runs against them, he can't seem to find a slot in the Indian team. Abhijit Kale, on whom many once had high hopes, kept the skipper company as the two saw Board President's XI safely through to stumps at 314/5. Kanitkar had 118 against his name while Kale had quietly moved on to 15.