June 2, 2001

It's all too easy for Indians against Academy side

The Indians turned on their batting power in the match against the CFX Academy in Harare today, running up an overpowering 370 for three wickets - two of which came when centurions Shiv Sunder Das and VVS Laxman retired after reaching three figures.

For the first time at a major match, the Academy's magnificent new pavilion, sponsored by Meikles Africa, was in operation. Like Mutare, the Country Club in Highlands, an affluent eastern suburb of Harare, is a resuscitated ground that is going places fast. Although no longer in the country, it seems far from the urban sprawl that is now Harare, with a golf course on two sides and surrounded by trees in a quiet and picturesque setting, all the more so under the cloudless winter sky.

Academy coach Dave Houghton was in charge of operations for the match and did a superb job. A crowd swelling to several hundred, rare for any match outside an international in Harare, added to the pleasant atmosphere, even though Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were sitting out the match.

The Academy, very nervous in the first match for most of them against international opposition, put the tourists in to bat on winning the toss. Sadgopan Ramesh at first batted as if entertaining a death wish, flashing his bat recklessly at some wild bowling and then being saved from running himself out only by a desperate rejection of a most unlikely run by his partner Das. He then settled down to play more responsibly, but still unleashed a few spectacular strokes.

Mluleki Nkala, a past Academy player but at the Academy for the last month supposedly to rectify his bowling problems but reportedly spending more time on fitness than bowling, was too inaccurate and did not yet look worthy of a place in the Test team. Gary Brent's accuracy restricted the scoring and the first wicket fell to Leon Soma at 86. Ramesh, who made his dissent clear, was given out caught down the leg side by 'keeper Wisdom Siziba for 42.

Das played the role of safe accumulator to perfection, biding his time and dispatching the loose ball. The afternoon session saw an untroubled and unhurried partnership between Das and Laxman, both happy to take some practice in the middle without undue exertion. Das reached his century with a pull for four off Brent, having faced 169 balls, and then seemed to move up a gear.

He displayed his immaculate straight drive with more regularity, while Laxman continually kept the board moving with well-placed ones and twos. On this good pitch the inexperienced Academy bowlers were unable to make any impact, and at tea Das was on 110 and Laxman had 63 to his name; the Indians were 248 for one.

At this point Das retired, giving Hemang Badani his first innings of the tour. He was soon under way with some impressive stylish drives, and it only emphasises the Indian batting strength that a player of such talent should be unable to find a place in the Test team.

Laxman also reached a century and immediately followed Das into retirement. Although the Academy bowlers were never really taken apart, they were left to rue two or three hard chances missed; they were simply unable to penetrate the powerful Indian batting line-up.

At the close India were 370 for three wickets, with Badani on 69 and Saurav Ganguly 26. The Academy players had no doubt learned some hard lessons.