Zimbabwe faced a challenging tour when they arrived in India after a miserable run of defeats. Since their spirited fightback to square their home series against India in June 2001, they had won only one Test out of nine, and only four of their last 23 one-day internationals. All but one of those five victories had come against Bangladesh, the weakest team on the circuit, and most recently they had been whitewashed in three Tests in Sri Lanka.
Reasons for Zimbabwe's woeful form were not hard to find. Six different captains had led the team since India's visit. An already fragile player base had been weakened by injury, retirement and bickering between the leading cricketers and the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, over pay and the pressure to include more black players in the national side. And many of the team were directly affected by the political crisis at home, where white-held farms were being forcibly reclaimed by Robert Mugabe's government.
The Zimbabweans' star player, Andy Flower, looked an unhappy man, confirming the team's growing anxiety at the political turmoil. He had lined up a contract to play for Essex in the English summer, and a permanent move from his homeland could not be discounted. On Zimbabwe's previous tour of India, only 15 months earlier, he had amassed 540 runs in two Tests (curiously, this visit returned to the same venues). He showed only a shadow of that stupendous form this time: apart from 92 in the first innings at Delhi, he scored 11 runs in three attempts.
Yet, after a disappointing innings defeat at Nagpur, the unheralded Zimbabweans found unexpected reserves, though it was too late to threaten India's formidable record of 17 unbeaten home series in their last 18. They reduced their hosts to 105 for six, with one man injured, in pursuit of a mere 122 on the last day at Delhi: a performance whose worth was underlined by memories of India's breathtaking series win against the Australians a year earlier. Zimbabwe followed up by twice taking the lead in the five-match one-day series, and might have scripted a fairytale victory in the fourth game, at Hyderabad, until it was snatched away by the vivacity of India's youth. The home side struggled without some of their key protagonists: injuries claimed Sachin Tendulkar and the explosive opener Virender Sehwag; the leg-spinner Anil Kumble later joined them on the sidelines, while Javagal Srinath was already taking a sabbatical from the limited-overs game.
For Zimbabwe, the former captain, Alistair Campbell, who had recently fallen from favour with the selectors, justified his recall with 251 runs in the five one-day games, Douglas Marillier played an astonishing innings at No. 10 to snatch victory in the opening one-day fixture, and Douglas Hondo turned in some useful seam bowling to win the third. In the Tests, the slow left-armer, Raymond Price - nephew of the golfer Nick Price, with an off-the-field job installing air-conditioning units - claimed an impressive ten wickets in the two Tests, and dismissed Tendulkar in all three innings.
But the Test series was won for India by the lethal spinning duo of Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, whose leg-spin/off-spin combination claimed a total of 28 wickets. The Zimbabweans were quite unable to combat quality slow bowling on turning tracks; none of them could plot a century, while the Indians relished three in one innings in the opening Test at Nagpur. Tendulkar was easily the leading run-scorer in the Tests and, at Delhi, Sourav Ganguly finally managed his first Test hundred as captain. Though Zimbabwe's improving form as the tour advanced provided encouragement for their new coach, Geoff Marsh, India ended up triumphant on all fronts.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Indian Board President's XI v Zimbabweans at Vijayawada, Feb 15-17, 2002