First Test

Zimbabwe v India, 2005-06

Special Correspondent

At Bulawayo, September 13, 14, 15, 16, 2005. India won by an innings and 90 runs. Toss: Zimbabwe. Test debuts: C. K. Coventry, T. Duffin.

Superb swing bowling from Pathan sent Zimbabwe down to their seventh successive innings defeat against the senior Test nations since their player rebellion of April 2004. Only in Bangladesh had they avoided this humiliation, losing by a mere 226 runs.

The first day was Zimbabwe's best. After winning the toss on a typical Bulawayo batting paradise, they survived to the close and set up a total of 279, their highest in those seven Tests. India played only two seamers and one, Zaheer Khan, bowled nine no-balls, while the spinners could not break through until after tea. Terry Duffin, a left-handed opener making his international debut, stayed at the crease until midafternoon for a solid 56 and held the early batting together while others failed to build on their starts. As so often in the last 18 months, Taibu was the exception, and his unbeaten 71 formed the backbone of the innings.

Next morning, however, Pathan was far too good for the tail, and India's openers made a flying start, reaching 88 in 17 overs before lunch. Gambhir almost matched Sehwag stroke for stroke. After lunch, umpire Daryl Harper was unwell and had to stand down for the rest of the day; he made the signal for the "supersub" as he handed over to third umpire Russell Tiffin. The afternoon also brought suffering to Zimbabwe, thanks to fluent batting from Dravid and Laxman, who reached a fine century. And he looked incapable of being dismissed until the third morning, when Ganguly refused his call for a quick single near Streak at mid-on.

In his 48th Test as captain - beating the Indian record shared by Sunil Gavaskar and Mohammad Azharuddin - but under heavy fire for his poor batting form, Ganguly was taking no chances. He compiled a laborious but determined century in 261 balls, his first in 14 Tests since December 2003. On the way, he passed 5,000 Test runs and spent an hour in the nineties, and he was out next ball. Pathan backed up his wickets with a fifty, and Harbhajan Singh produced a bright finish with three sixes in an 18- ball 37. With Streak not at his best, Mahwire was the attack's workhorse and deserved his Test-best figures of four for 92.

Zimbabwe had 18 overs to face before the close: their innings shattered before half had been bowled. Five wickets fell, with Pathan grabbing four in 22 balls in a magnificent spell, the Zimbabweans showing their familiar weakness against the moving ball. Taibu was left holding the fort again, while another debutant, Charles Coventry, hit out boldly for 24 off 27 balls. Coventry fell in the day's final over, giving Harbhajan his 200th wicket in 46 Tests, an Indian record. Harbhajan claimed three more on the fourth morning, though the remaining four wickets did add 118. Taibu reached another honourable fifty, and the last pair, Ewing and Mahwire, put on 47 and held out almost until lunch. Zimbabwe cherish such small victories.

Man of the Match: I. K. Pathan.

© John Wisden & Co.