Form is temporary, class is permanent goes the adage. When a classy batsman is in form, that is the ultimate problem for a bowling side. Zimbabwe today were at the wrong end of an exhilarating batting display from three men - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. If Tendulkar provided the initial impetus with a run a ball blistering 39, Dravid (70 not out) and Ganguly (65 not out) took India to their fourth consecutive victory in the first Test of the current series at the Feroz Shah Kotla. The pair added 110 runs for the third wicket and took India past the target of 190 in 37.3 overs with seven wickets to spare.
The session between lunch and tea proved to be a most dramatic one, and settled the issue in India's favour. The Indian bowlers, fresh from the rest and rejuvenated by the meal knocked out the Zimbabwe tail. But not before they let at least three chances go abegging. Skipper Ganguly floored a sitter in the slips and Vijay Dahiya added a blackmark to a good match for him by dropping a regulation catch behind the stumps. Fortunately for India, the error was rectified soon enough as Henry Olonga, the last man, missed a full, straight Srinath yorker and was trapped plumb in front. After charging in for 24.1 overs, Srinath returned 5/81, taking his match tally to nine wickets. Although Srinath had created the chance for the Indians by restricting Zimbabwe to 225, there was still a challenging target to be overhauled. Challenging or not, it was easy work for India given the kind of form the top three batsmen have been in.
Sadagoppan Ramesh and Shiv Sunder Das walked out to the middle ending any speculation that the Indians might change the batting order in an attempt to make a quick start. Unfortunately for Ramesh, his poor form continued. Playing at a ball outside the off stump from Heath Streak without really moving his feet, Ramesh (0) presented Andy Flower with an easy catch. First innings double centurion joined Das out in the middle and started off in splendid fashion, pulling Brian Strang to the fence in style.
Unfortunately for India even this combination was not to last. Das made an error of judgment, backed up too much and could not regain his crease before a Brian Murphy direct hit broke the stumps at the nonstriker's end. For the third time in this match, the score read 15/2.
In walked Sachin Tendulkar. Playing as only he can, the Mumbai class act decimated the Zimbabwean bowling. Driving the ball with immense power, Tendulkar found the gaps with ease. The momentum was so frenetic, the hitting so clean, that even Heath Streak was forced to stop and applaud.
When the spinners were brought into the attack, their fate was no better. Tendulkar employed the sweep shot with great results. Planting his foot and sweeping the ball all along the ground, Tendulkar pounded the hoardings square of the wicket. Unfortunately for India the fairytale didn't last long. Tendulkar went hard at a ball from Paul Strang that was well outside the off stump and miscued it to backward point. The other leg spinner, Brian Murphy who suffered so much at the hands of Tendulkar pouched the catch. Tendulkar's 39 ball assault that yielded as many runs, was over. His innings however, had put India in the driver's seat.
Ganguly and Dravid then came together to forge a sensible 110-run partnership that saw India through to victory. Dravid added an unbeaten 70 to his first innings double ton. Stroking the ball with gay abandon, he realised very early on that this target could be overhauled by sensible batting. Ganguly too was patient and prudent in shot selection. When the ball was there to be hit though, neither missed out. If Dravid's pet stroke was the pull, Ganguly's was the dance down the wicket that deposited the ball in the stands. When Ganguly nudged the ball behind square for his 65th run, India had completed their triumph with 9.3 overs to spare. Srinath was adjudged the man of the match.