Toss: Zimbabwe. Test debuts: all Zimbabweans except A. J. Traicos.
Against expectation Zimbabwe held the upper hand for long periods in their inaugural Test match, played in very hot weather on a lifeless pitch. Both attacks were rendered innocuous and much of the batting was also excessively cautious, with a run-rate of barely two an over. Zimbabwe, however, had the satisfaction of gaining a first-innings lead of 149 and, as the ninth Test-playing country, went on to become the first to avoid defeat in their initial Test since Australia in 1876-77, when Test cricket began. Their captain, Houghton, became the first player to score a century on his country's debut since Charles Bannerman, on the same occasion. Houghton shared the individual honours with Manjrekar, who scored a hundred for India, and Traicos, the Zimbabwean off-spinner.
At the age of 45, Traicos became the 14th man to represent two countries at Test level, 22 years and 222 days since playing for South Africa in their last Test before exclusion from international cricket - a record gap between Test appearances. He took five for 86 in 50 overs marked by subtle changes of pace and flight. The game will also be remembered as the first Test to have three appointed umpires. A new sponsorship by the British company National Grid meant that Dickie Bird was flown out from England to stand in his 48th Test and equal the world record set by his compatriot, Frank Chester. Bird stood throughout and the two Zimbabwean umpires on alternate days. Attendances throughout the game were tiny.
India, still adjusting to the altitude and short on match preparation, could take only five wickets during the first two days. The Zimbabwean innings was launched by a stand of 100 from Arnott and Grant, the younger of the Flower brothers, who survived a chance to slip off Raju when 21 and had made 82 when he fell just before the close. An early wicket next morning brought in Houghton, for so long the mainstay of his country's batting, to make his Test debut at the age of 35. Curbing his natural attacking instincts, he reached a chanceless hundred in 305 minutes, with 12 fours. He had sound support from Andy Flower, who helped him to add 165 in 68 overs for the sixth wicket, but Zimbabwe quickly lost their last five wickets on the third morning. Houghton was seventh out when he edged a catch behind. He had batted watchfully for 414 minutes, permitting himself just the occasional lofted drive or pull; he hit 15 fours from 322 balls, and played the spinners especially well.
Zimbabwe's eventual total of 456 was easily the highest by a country on Test debut, beating Australia's 245. When they took the field they soon lost Brandes, their only fast bowler, who broke down after two overs and took no further part in the match. Yet they shrugged off this setback, as Traicos subdued the batsmen from the moment he came on; he held a good return catch to dismiss Tendulkar and then had Azharuddin taken at slip. India were thus reduced to 93 for four by the close, still needing 164 to avoid the follow-on. The left-arm seamer Crocker, included shortly before the toss when Shah pulled out because of a niggling groin strain, conceded only 11 in his first 13 overs, nine of which were maidens.
On the fourth day Traicos claimed the only three wickets to fall. Zimbabwe, though, lost the initiative for the first time when they took the new ball at 113 for five from 75 overs. The switch from Traicos's spin suited Kapil Dev, who made a forceful 60 in 95 balls. Prabhakar and More then stayed with Manjrekar as he dragged the game away from Zimbabwe, pushing and nudging towards his hundred just before the close after 500 minutes, the fourth-slowest Test century. He had faced 397 balls and hit only seven fours.
Though he was soon caught at backward point next morning, when India were all out in a further 45 minutes, Zimbabwe could only bat out the match.
Close of play: First day, Zimbabwe 188-3 (A. J. Pycroft 6*, M. G. Burmester 2*); Second day, Zimbabwe 406-5 (D. L. Houghton 110*, A. Flower 55*); Third day, India 93-4 (S. V. Manjrekar 27*, S. L. V. Raju 0*); Fourth day, India 278-7 (S. V. Manjrekar 100*, K. S. More 23*).