Exciting last day sees Zimbabwe beat Board President's XI
After the cricketing pendulum swung this way and that, sensible cricket and a well paced chase saw Zimbabwe register their first win of the series. Beating Board President's XI by 4 wickets, Zimbabwe have had the ideal warm up to what should be a tough Test series against India. Needless to say, their victory was made possible by a big innings from Andy Flower - a man who did not bat in the Zimbabwe first innings. The win is certain to boost the confidence of the Zimbabweans, and put them in a relaxed frame of mind as they take the field at the Ferozeshah Kotla on the 18th.
Zimbabwe sent out mixed signals in their quest to go into the Test match at Delhi with a win under their belts. Needing to score at a rate of just less than five runs an over for a period of fifty-five overs, they sent out openers Gavin Rennie and Grant Flower. They started their quest badly, when Grant Flower was cleaned up by a quick delivery from Mumbai speedster Santosh Saxena. Stuart Carlisle took Grant Flower's place and it seemed like he was going to play the role of sheet anchor. While Rennie played himself in, all Carlisle did was consolidate.
However, the temptation to score a few quick runs and set up a victory platform might have been too much to resist for Carlisle. Having struck three fours in his essay of 18, he fell, caught close to the bat. At 50/2 there were serious doubts about Zimbabwe's willingness to try and overhaul this total. Would they go back into a shell and play out the day? The dilemma of answering that question was postponed by Andy Flower and Gavin Rennie. In a 115 run partnership that came off exactly 21 overs, the pair of left handers kept Zimbabwe very much in the hunt. Rennie played a particularly responsible knock, interspersing hits to the fence with well run singles and twos. Although he could not match Flower when it came to strokemaking, his 71 came off just 102 balls and did the Zimbabwean cause no harm at all. He was finally snapped up by stand-in stumper Abhijit Kale off Kapoor.
While Flower strode confidently on at a run a ball, sweeping everything that was sent in his direction, Trevor Madondo made a brief appearance out in the middle. A 22 ball 17 ensued before he attempted to work a Sanghvi delivery to the onside against the spin. The ball went off the leading edge towards short cover and a diving Kanitkar pouched the ball.
Skipper Guy Whittall replaced Madondo and he too witnessed the Kanitkar-Sanghvi combination in action. Andy Flower came down the wicket and tried to work the ball past short midwicket. In an action replay to the last time, Kanitkar dived across and sent Flower on his way. Flower's 94 off 103 balls included 12 fours, two sixes and was once more the backbone of the Zimbabwe innings.
Having done all the hard work, Andy Flower had the pleasure of watching his team win from the comfortable confines of the pavilion as cameos from Mluleki Nkala (22) and Guy Whittall (26 not out) saw Zimbabwe through to a four wicket victory with six balls to spare.
Earlier in the day, resuming on 52 for no loss, Board President's XI batted with panache till they decided to give Zimbabwe a fair shot at winning their first game on tour. Vijay Dahiya nursing a sore palm decided to cool his heels in anticipation of the forthcoming Test match. He did not walk out to the middle with Ravneet Ricky and instead Abhijit Kale got a knock higher up in the order. Dahiya had played cautiously the evening before to notch up 23 (63 balls, 4 fours).
Kale was careful in approaching the Zimbabwe bowling in the company of Ricky. On a flat track, with Zimbabwe not having any serious firepower, one wondered if the excessive caution was warranted. Kale's 52 ball essay of 14 certainly suggested that it wasn't. Falling to the bowling of Nkala, caught well by Andy Flower behind the stumps, Kale ended a wholly unsatisfying match. This brought to the crease a man who had fared a trifle better in Board President's XI's first essay - Hrishikesh Kanitkar. The skipper had been restrained in the first innings, but did not hesitate to open his shoulders. Chancing his arm on more than one occasion, Kanitkar made his intentions amply clear. This made Ravneet Ricky at the other end try and accelerate a bit.
Ricky had demonstrated an ability to stand tall and play the ball with the full face of the bat. Although he never looked like he was going to launch himself at the opposition, he certainly looked good for more than the 44 he made. Having spent almost three hours at the crease he really should have gone on to make more. The Zimbabweans celebrated the fall of Ravneet Ricky as they had Board President's XI faltering a bit at 92/2. Losing quick wickets is not always the best way to keep the scoring rate high. On the day, Board President's XI couldn't have done better. The in-form, flamboyant Virender Sehwag swaggered to the middle to join his captain.
Having played an exciting cameo in the first innings, much was expected of Sehwag. Whatever the Zimbabweans expected, they certainly did not anticipate the kind of hammering Sehwag dished out. Starting with a cover drive off Nkala, Sehwag launched a magnificent broadside that the Zimbabweans could not counter. If the cover drive that skidded off the turf to the fence was played with the precision of a brain surgeon the next shot betrayed that there was a bit of a butcher in the young man. Picking a full delivery from the offstump, Sehwag whipped the ball ferociously past mid on. Sehwag's arms and bat came down so quickly that Olonga at mid on could not even take a step before the ball thudded into the advertising hoardings. But Nkala was not the only bowler to suffer at the hands of Sehwag. Leg spinner Paul Strang was the next to be taken to task, having thirteen taken off him in a single over, including three consecutive boundaries.
While Sehwag was blazing away, Kanitkar too began to step on the gas pedal. Heaving two balls over the ropes, the captain reached 33 (37 balls, 2 fours, 2 sixes) before he decided that enough was enough. Sehwag had blazed his way to an unbeaten 58 (44 balls, 13 fours) and Board President's XI had amassed 183 off 54 overs. Their first innings lead of 78 left Zimbabwe with a target of 262. Given 55 overs to achieve the task, there was no reason why they could not pull off a win on the eve of the Test match.