Batsmen waste Streak's performance
India closed in on an emphatic victory in the second Test at Harare, despite their stuttering against an immaculate examination against medium-pace, on a day when no batsman came to grips with the bowler-friendly conditions and discomforting swing. Zimbabwe turned in an exceptional performance in the field, inspired by Heath Streak's superb six-wicket haul, his best in Tests, but their batsmen were yet again reduced to bumbling novices against the moving ball later in the day.
However, Zimbabwe were a different side today. Streak and his understudies, Blessing Mahwire and Waddington Mwayenga, enjoyed a fantastic day with the ball and effectively reduced India to 171 for 9 - based on today's performance alone. Rahul Dravid, arguably the best current player of the moving ball, was forced to work exceptionally hard against canny seam bowling and none of batsmen could break the shackles against a nagging attack. None of this was ever going to change the outcome of the match - Zimbabwe had fallen too far back yesterday - but they will surely take a lot of heart from their spirited effort.
Barring torrential downpours, India should complete a crushing triumph and seal their first series victory outside the subcontinent since 1986. The main reason for that drought has been their batsmen's inability to come to terms with the lively pitches, quality fast bowling, swing and seam and India fell right into the same trap again. Faced with disciplined medium-pace with the ball moving both ways, batsmen after batsmen were frustrated into indiscretions - Gautam Gambhir flashed at one after being bogged down; Yuvraj Singh and Dravid paid for playing across the line against full swinging deliveries; and Sourav Ganguly poked at one after being tied down by accurate bowling.
Streak's exceptional control of swing and length - he upped his pace at times too - left all the batsmen clueless and he was duly rewarded with his seventh five-wicket haul in Tests. The bowlers stuck to a fine channel all day and the batsmen, who appeared to be waiting for the loose ball, were ultimately undone with the run-rate reduced to a labouring crawl.
Unlike Zimbabwe's sensational collapses, this was more of a gradual disintegration. Dravid played some gorgeous drives amid a lot of groping and poking but the rest of the batsmen weren't even allowed those liberties. Zimbabwe didn't even use their spinner as the medium-pacers responded beautifully in conducive conditions. Both Gambhir and Dravid missed out on hundreds and only a lively knock by Irfan Pathan helped India stretch the lead past 200.
Once India were bowled out, Pathan and Zaheer Khan went about blasting Zimbabwe's top order with some alarming swing, helped by some fantastic catching in the close-in cordon. Dravid, Yuvraj and Anil Kumble made difficult chances look ridiculously simple while Brendan Taylor was unlucky to leave after a ridiculous decision, when the ball appeared to be heading way over the stumps. Zaheer was a much more menacing force today and, along with Pathan, left Zimbabwe floundering in another whirpool.
Swing, more than anything else, has dictated this series and Zimbabwe's batsmen would do well to dwell on their shortcomings. Based on today's performance, despite standing on the verge of a comprehensive series triumph, the Indian batsmen will need similar introspection.
Gautam Gambhir c Taibu b Mahwire 97 (198 for 2)
Flashes at a wide one
VVS Laxman lbw b Streak 8 (219 for 3)
Trapped plumb when he missed one that came in
Sourav Ganguly c Taibu b Mwayenga 16 (245 for 4)
Poked at one outside off
Yuvraj Singh b Streak 25 (306 for 5)
Played all over a full swinging ball
Rahul Dravid b Mahwire 98 (306 for 6)
Missed as he played across the line to a full ball
Dinesh Karthik b Streak 12 (318 for 7)
Deceived by an incutter and played on
Anil Kumble c Ebrahim b Streak 8 (342 for 8)
Flashes at a wide one and edges to second slip
Irfan Pathan c Coventry b Streak 32 (361 for 9)
Holed out to deep square leg
Zaheer Khan c Taibu b Blignaut 2 (366)
Edged a full length ball
Terry Duffin c Dravid b Pathan 10 (13 for 1)
Forced to play at an outswinger. Fine low catch at second slip
Brendan Taylor lbw b Pathan 4 (18 for 2)
Hit high on the pads and was unlucky to be given out
Dion Ebrahim c Yuvraj b Zaheer 3 (18 for 3)
Flashes at a wide one. Superb catch diving to his left
Tatenda Taibu c Kumble b Zaheer 1 (21 for 4)
Edges an outswinger to gully. Kumble takes a fine diving catch
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo