Zimbabwe reel after Ganguly's ton
An uncharacteristically watchful hundred from Sourav Ganguly, who became the eighth Indian batsman to pass 5000 runs, shut Zimbabwe out of the contest at Bulawayo before a sensational collapse brought them to their knees on the third day of the first Test. Once India's batsmen, choosing graft over flamboyance, had stretched the lead to an imposing 275 it was only a matter of time before Zimbabwe surrendered. Crumbling to 18 for 5 in 44 minutes, though, was just too rapid.
The reason for the debacle was fairly straightforward: Irfan Pathan bowled as though he was hurling Frisbees at high speed - curving the ball at perfect arcs, zeroing in on a precise line - and he made the batsmen play at most, beat them with vicious swing, rattled stumps, thudded pads and eviscerated the top order. Brendon Taylor and Heath Streak plonked their front foot in the line of the fire, Dion Ebrahim left a gaping channel open between bat and pad while Hamilton Masakadza swished wildly out of sheer frustration. Amid this carnage, Zaheer Khan uprooted Terrence Duffin's off stump with another in-dipper as the vultures hovered around the mess created in the Queens Sports Club. Charles Coventry fell on the stroke of stumps, after he and Tatenda Taibu had added 49 in quick time, and handed Harbhajan Singh his 200th Test wicket in his 46th Test - the second-youngest bowler, after Kapil Dev, to reach the landmark.
However, Zimbabwe's predicament at the end of the day didn't reflect their spirited fightback in the first session. They were much more disciplined with the ball, put the brakes on India's scoring-rate and eked out three vital wickets - two through the batsmen's sloppiness and one through a sensational catch by Taibu behind the stumps. VVS Laxman's artistic hundred came to an abrupt end through a terrible mix-up with Ganguly; Yuvraj Singh yorked himself against the innocuous left-arm spin of Keith Dabengwa; and Dinesh Karthik watched in awe as Taibu acrobatically lunged to his right and plucked out a beauty. India managed only 71 runs in the first session and an imposing total was still a way off.
That was when they ran into a determined Ganguly. Through a blend of nudges, glides and cautious punches Ganguly gradually ground his way to his 12th Test hundred, his first after the career-defining century at the Gabba in December 2003. He didn't even take too many liberties against the spinners - several notches below the sort of bowlers he has massacred - and showed a steely resolve to drag himself back into form after experiencing an abysmal few months. It might have been 101 off 262 balls against a thin attack on a featherbed of a pitch but the enormity of the burden lifted off his shoulders cannot be underestimated and a crucial corner might just have been turned.
He found an able ally in Pathan, who brought up his second Test fifty, and the duo patiently moved the score into unreachable territory. Pathan was also not at his positive best, defending compactly against the spinners, but the substance-over-flamboyance approach enabled India to gradually turn the game into a one-horse race. Harbhajan Singh was soon flogging the dead horse with a 18-ball blitz, including three huge sixes, as India soared to a mammoth total. Pathan went one step further and put an emphatic end to a no-contest.
Laxman run out (Streak/Taibu) 140 (356 for 4)
Push to short midwicket, terrible mix-up with Ganguly
Yuvraj b Dabengwa 12 (372 for 5)
Yorked himself as he tried to flick a full ball
Karthik c Taibu b Blignaut 1 (379 for 6)
Edged full ball, sensational one-handed catch
Pathan c and b Dabengwa 52 (476 for 7)
Flick to leg, leading edge
Ganguly c Ewing b Dabengwa 101 (502 or 8)
Tried to clear the field but chipped to mid-off
Kumble c Coventry b Dabengwa 17 (522 for 9)
Holed out to long-off
Harbhajan c Coventry b Mahwire 37 (554)
Went for a big hit, lofted straight to long-off
Taylor lbw b Pathan 4 (4 for 1)
Big inswinger, trapped in front
Masakadza c Kumble b Pathan 2 (9 for 2)
Flashed outswinger to gully
Duffin b Zaheer 2 (9 for 3)
Missed an in-dipper, uprooted off stump
Ebrahim b Pathan 1 (16 for 4)
Bowled through the gate by inswinger
Streak lbw b Pathan 0 (18 for 5)
Shouldered arms to inswinger
Coventry c Gambhir b Harbhajan 24 (67 for 6)
Inside edge onto pad. Ball pops up to short-leg
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo