Taibu and Duffin star on the opening day
There was no slaughter at Bulawayo on the opening day of the series as Zimbabwe began on a positive note on a flat pitch under bright skies against a bowling attack that looked anything but penetrative. Unlike their recent debacles, Zimbabwe didn't collapse at the blink of an eye, ending on an impressive 265 for 7 thanks largely to plucky half-centuries from Terrence Duffin and Tatenda Taibu, and kept India at bay.
India's erratic effort with the new ball, the ragged fielding and the botched chances cost them and they were thwarted by Duffin's tenacious debut, Dion Ebrahim's determined methods, Taibu's impish improvisation and Heath Streak's steady influence. A few sloppy shots from the batsmen saved India further embarrassment and a potentially great day for Zimbabwe turned into merely a good one.
It wasn't too much of a surprise when Taibu was left to repair some of the damage but the surprise package of the day was Duffin - a portly 23-year-old opener who impressed with a defiant half-century. Duffin was like Zimbabwe's version of Mark Richardson, the former New Zealand opener, and in an age of blistering run-rates he reminded all that the stodgy opener wasn't yet an extinct species. He survived some jaffas early on from Irfan Pathan, pitching on middle and curving away beautifully past the edge, but he bided his time and prospered by not trying anything fancy.
The lunch break, though, transformed him and he unfurled a few copybook cover-drives against the faster bowlers after the interval. However, his positive approach led to his undoing and he was trapped in front while trying to flick Pathan across the line. He became only the fifth Zimbabwean to make a half-century on debut and he could well solve a few of their problems at the top of the order. His more experienced team-mates, though, could do well to emulate his solidity. Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza gave it away just when they were finding their feet, the latter to a totally unnecessary hook attempt while Ebrahim waded through the turbulence only to slip on the dance floor.
But Taibu kept them afloat with a vital unbeaten 61, an innings where he blended compact defence with streaks of audacity and thrived alongside both Streak and Keith Dabengwa. He wasn't afraid to loft the spinners - who extracted appreciable turn and bite from the pitch - and put them off their rhythm with premeditated sweeps. He was fortunate on 4 when Gautam Gambhir flinched at short leg and missed a dolly of a catch but rarely looked in trouble for the rest of the time and guided the lower order responsibly. The acceleration came in the final session, when 98 runs were added, as he and Dabengwa, swinging five fours and one six cheerfully, ended the day on a high.
India, though, will know that the day could have taken a more miserable turn had the batsmen shown more ruthlessness. After a poor first spell - where he was lucky to pick up two wickets - Zaheer redeemed himself in the afternoon with a good exhibition of swing bowling. Pathan wasn't at his menacing swerving best, Harbhajan - needing just one more wicket to become the fastest Indian bowler to reach 200 Test victims - couldn't produce his magic and even Kumble was forced to rely on grinding the batsmen out.
Luckily for India, they still hold a slight edge in this game - thanks to ideal batting conditions and their power-packed batting order - despite Zimbabwe having one of their better days of Test cricket in recent times.
Taylor c Gambhir b Zaheer 13 (25 for 1)
Beaten by the inswing and gets an inside edge that ricochet to the short-leg fielder
Masakadza c Karthik b Zaheer 14 (45 for 2)
Goes after a short ball down the legside and the nick sails to Dinesh Karthik behind the stumps
Duffin lbw b Pathan 56 (119 for 3)
Misses a straight one as he attempts to play across the line and caught in front
Ebrahim c and b Pathan 24 (124 for 4)
Tamely pats a straight one back to the bowler. Pathan takes a simple catch
Streak c Dravid b Kumble 27 (193 for 5)
Tries to drive through the covers but only manages to edge the legbreak to first slip
Coventry lbw Kumble 2 (197 for 6)
Beaten by the pace of a straighter one and trapped in front
Blignaut lbw Zaheer 4 (210 for 7)
Rooted to the crease as he misses a straight one from Zaheer
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo