Taylor and Ervine seal terrific win
This wasn't an upset at all. Zimbabwe were the stronger side, which showed in the assured manner of a tall chase, set up by fliers from Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza and finished off with 10 balls to spare by a cool-on-debut Craig Ervine. The return of high-profile cricket to Zimbabwe put smiles on the faces of a spirited crowd, built mostly of school children, as the home team meticulously beat India for the first time in eight years, and sealed its second-highest successful chase in ODIs. A weak India's only creditable spell came when Rohit Sharma scored 69 off the last 36 balls he faced to score his maiden ODI century and give them a fighting total on a flat track.
That Rohit assault and a wayward bowling start aside, Zimbabwe dominated the rest of the game. India's real weakness showed when their three debutant medium-pacers proved to be no match for Zimbabwe's batting. Zimbabwe, though, could only have played against the side their opponents sent over, and that they did fantastically.
Taylor and Masakadza were brutal against the new ball. None of the medium-pacers looked like creating a chance, and the openers duly punished them, reaching 88 in 13 overs. The first over of the chase was indicative of the effort of both sides. Ashok Dinda finished with one pitched up too far, and Taylor drove it wristily for four. It remained the case in the first 10 overs: whenever the bowlers went too full or too short, they were hit. The in-between lengths induced respect, but never bothered the batsmen. The pitch didn't have the bounce, nor the bowlers the pace to trouble them with the bouncers. Umesh Yadav, the fastest of the three, and R Vinay Kumar were both pulled away for sixes.
If Masakadza unleashed raw power, Taylor brought a sense of calm with the way he went about scoring. Two balls after Dinda failed to collect cleanly and missed his run-out in the eighth over, Masakadza made room and smashed him through extra cover. That was the first time Zimbabwe's run-rate went past six, batting would only look easier in the upcoming few overs. Vinay got the worst treatment when Taylor hit the 10th over for two sixes and a four: a pull, a golf swing over long-on, and a square-cut.
Amit Mishra was the only bowler who challenged Zimbabwe, and in his second over he removed Masakadza with a googly. Taylor dropped anchor then, and while he and Greg Lamb added only 63 in 16.3 overs, Zimbabwe needed only 135 in more than 20 overs by the time they were separated.
That's when Ervine belied someone making debut. Even as Taylor slowed down, and then holed out to fine leg, Ervine kept scoring at almost a run a ball without taking undue risks. He picked up gaps well, and by the time he hit his first boundary he had already scored 30 off 38 balls. By then Zimbabwe had lost Taylor, but Charles Coventry was in the middle of a cameo himself, and 72 were required off 52 with a batting Powerplay in hand.
The sort of time, then, when the minnow side's mental strength is tested with a win in sight. Ervine, though, made mockery of such fears, and went after the fastest bowler on display, Yadav. That Elton Chigumbura moved to 20 off 15 with the winning hit will relieve the new captain after a horrible start to the match.
Chigumbura conceded 26 runs in a forgettable 12-delivery fourth over, 17 of them through extras, but India were not to be left behind when it came to generosity. In the ninth over, M Vijay was princely slow in sliding his bat back in after having taken two steps down the pitch for a non-existent second. Virat Kohli, in the next over, called for a single that wasn't there and was run out without having faced a delivery. Dinesh Karthik, two overs later, edged a short and wide drifter from Prosper Usteya.
Captain Suresh Raina and Rohit put their heads together and prevented it from becoming a procession of wickets, but Christopher Mpofu came back to end that 67-run partnership with a bouncer way outside off. India were 128 for 4 off 30 overs then, and Rohit - 31 off 65 - was the only specialist batsman left: India's 15-member squad consists of four specialist batsmen, two wicketkeeper-batsmen, three bits-and-pieces spinners, and bowlers.
Zimbabwe's famous band of spinners, Ray Price, Utseya, Greg Lamb and Graeme Cremer, along with Mpofu, had done their job until then, conceding only 91 runs in 28 overs between them. They had induced a couple of mis-hits from Rohit, which both fell short of long-off, but with Ravindra Jadeja for company, Rohit cut out all risks from his batting. His first boundary came off the 84th delivery he faced, and took him to one short of a half-century. It didn't faze him that at the time the run-rate was hovering around four an over in the 38th over.
His late burst, full of elegant shots over extra cover and midwicket, taking his strike-rate from 50 to close to 100, getting India 115 runs in the last 11 overs, was to end up second-best.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo