Zimbabwe made their victory charge just a little too late, losing by 13 runs to India, their second successive defeat in the Champions Trophy in Sharjah. On an evening when there was much less dew in the outfield, the Indian attack spearheaded by Zaheer Khan were able to hold off Zimbabwe, but not without a measure of discomfort. A gallant 118 run third wicket stand between Andy Flower and Stuart Carlisle laid a sound platform for the final surge. Flower was the more adventurous of the two, always ready to take a risk or two in order to disrupt the rhythm of the bowlers.
He fell for 63 (68 balls), sweeping at Tendulkar but failing to clear Joshi at midwicket. Carlisle had been an able lieutenant, opening out after a slow start to play some rasping pulls through the midwicket region. When Joshi bowled him for 60 (99 balls) as he made room to cut, it left Zimbabwe at 165/4 in the 37th over. The loss of both these protagonists in quick succession as they sought to raise the ante did not quite leave Zimbabwe out of the picture.
Grant Flower and Guy Whittall then added 49 at a run a ball and entering the final six overs, Zimbabwe were actually ahead of India at the corresponding stage. But they were unable to match the Indian tailenders in making optimum use of the final few overs. Flower was caught at the edge of the circle by an Agarkar slower ball and then although Heath Streak struck the same bowler for a massive straight six in the penultimate over, the target was just out of their reach as they settled at 252/6.
Zaheer Khan was declared man of the match for his brilliant spell of 3/37. His fifth ball had seen Alistair Campbell, back after a onematch suspension, offer a stinging catch to the left of Rahul Dravid at second slip which was put down. Zaheer was not to be denied as Doug Marillier found out in the fifth over, having his offstump knocked back to leave Zimbabwe at 21/1. Prasad had a good leg before shout against Campbell turned down by Daryl Harper but the in-form opener failed to make the most of his chances. Zaheer got one to cut back sharply and cannon into off stump as the batsman tried to steer it square of the wicket.
Earlier the Indian tail wagged with abandon to provide a breezy climax to an innings built around a rocksolid 85 by Rahul Dravid, promoted to open the batting. None of Dravid's colleagues at the top of the order were able to show similar application, throwing their wickets away after getting set. Yuvraj Singh played a delightful cameo of 34 which gave some momentum in the middle overs but it was really the efforts of Vijay Dahiya and his cohorts at the fag end which bolstered India to a once unthinkable 265. Ironically it was Dravid's fall that provided the impetus as the 5.4 overs post Dravid produced a mammoth 59 runs.
Inserted to bat, India began quietly with Dravid and Tendulkar playing out a maiden apiece. Having survived a dropped chance by Guy Whittall at short midwicket, Tendulkar was enticed into a full blooded drive off a lovely outswinger that was pitched up from Streak, the faint edge being snapped up by Andy Flower.
Vinod Kambli, he of the wretched luck, arrived at No.3 and promptly took charge of the situation. The Zimbabwe bowlers erred in line, pitching on Kambli's legs, and the lefthander, fluently but chancily, kept whipping the ball off his legs through midwicket and squareleg. Travis Friend replaced Streak and Kambli pulled him to the midwicket fence to bring up the fifty.
Friend surprised Kambli with a lifter that struck him on the forearm and the physio came on for some treatment. After the break, another short delivery was fired in at shoulder length, and Kambli pulled it to the man at square leg on the edge of the circle. The batsman looked beseechingly at both umpires for any sign of a no-ball call. No response was forthcoming and Kambli departed for 18.
Ganguly had suggested in his pre-match comments that he was shunting himself down the order to handle Zimbabwe's two spinners. Well, Friend scotched any such pretensions by getting rid of the Indian captain in the 23rd over. Friend had been unafraid to bounce Ganguly, even if it meant giving away a stray no-ball or two. Following one such delivery which ruffled Ganguly just a bit, he slipped in an innocuous ball down leg which the batsman glanced loosely to Andy Flower who gathered the catch well.
Left arm spinner Dirk Viljoen was brought on by Streak and he immediately copped some punishment from Dravid who, with no sweeper stationed, rocked on the backfoot to get him away to the cover boundary. That brought up the hundred in the 24th over and Dravid posted his half century in the same over off 74 balls. Yuvraj took a little while to adjust himself to the pace off the wicket but it was a treat when he finally cut loose. He picked out Grant Flower for some choice treatment, lofting him into the first tier of stands over long on and then flatbatting the bowler in his second over for another six over midwicket.
But it was that man Friend who struck again. Coming back for his second spell, he hustled one round Yuvraj's legs that just nicked the leg bail on its way through to Flower. A blissfully ignorant Daryl Harper had actually signalled wide before his eyes homed in on the fallen bail and Yuvraj was on his way for a swift 34 off 39 balls.
The fifth bowler's duties had been apportioned between the three slow bowlers - Viljoen, Flower and Campbell - who went for 65 in their ten overs. Robin Singh was unfortunately run out and Dravid who was nearing the end of his tether now holed out to Grant Flower on the square leg boundary for 85 (121 balls).
Sunil Joshi, who'd stepped in for the injured Anil Kumble, (19 off 13) belted a nice juicy full toss from Friend over the bowler's head for six before his stumps were rearranged by Streak. Dahiya mauled Friend's figures further in the penultimate over of the innings, slicing a full toss to deep backward point for four and following it up by lifting a half volley for a straight six. He fell for 32 in 23 balls, but Ajit Agarkar provided the icing by blasting Streak into the first tier of the stands over long on in the last over. Friend who was taken for plenty in his last spell finished with the best figures of 4/55.