Zimbabwe had only one chance to qualify for the LGCUP final on Sunday. They had to beat a very confident and balanced Indian team convincingly. India, unlike the other teams in the tournament, had already played numerous matches this season and was the form team. For Zimbabwe to pull off a win they would have had to play well above themselves.
This was not to be. Zimbabwe came up against a determined Sourav Ganguly who smote the bowlers to all parts of the ground and with his 139, at nearly a run a ball, helped India post the highest score of the tournament, 277/6.
Zimbabwe had to score 278 in 50 overs, to win the match, and 42.1 overs to improve their net run rate to qualify for the final on Sunday. Starting well, it all petered out to be dismissed for 170 and allowed their neighbours South Africa to meet the Indians in the final.
With overcast conditions and some dampness from late afternoon watering, both captains were keen to win the toss and field first. Zimbabwe drew first blood, winning the important toss and electing to field. The pitch later turned out to be the best of the tournament so far.
India kept an unchanged team while Zimbabwe brought in Henry Olonga for Paul Strang and Mpumelo "Pommie" Mbangwa for David Mutendera.
Neil Johnson and Mbangwa shared the new ball for Zimbabwe, with the left handers Sadagoppan Ramesh and Sourav Ganguly taking strike. It was Ramesh who sent a short ball from Johnson scurrying to the square leg boundary to end the first over. Early movement through the air made it difficult for the bowlers to find the correct line and a few wides resulted. Johnson especially was guilty of bowling on both sides of the wickets. He was however carrying a slight groin injury.
Ganguly got his boundary count going with a cover drive off Mbangwa offering some width outside the off. With few balls troubling the batsmen, and hardly any balls beating the edge, the pitch looked a good one to bat on. With the added advantage of the quick outfield and the shorter boundaries, Zimbabwe could find themselves chasing a bigger than expected total.
Alistair Campbell was forced to remove the injured Johnson (4-0-14-0) from the attack and replace him with the pace of Henry Olonga. Deciding to bowl round the wicket and pushing the ball into the left handers he started off well giving away a single wide.
Without scoring boundaries, the Indian batsmen showed that by clever placement and good running between the wickets, six runs per over was possible. Waiting for anything loose was the order of the day. Ganguly, starting off patiently, pulled a Mbangwa short delivery to the square leg boundary. Over correcting in the same over Ganguly beautifully drove the over-pitched delivery to the cover boundary to bring the 50 up in the 12 th over.
Andrew Whittall was brought on and bowled five good balls before Ganguly neatly guided a ball through the vacant slip area to the third-man boundary. A glanced four, to fine leg, from Ganguly off Olonga brought up the end of the 15 th over with India on 67
With the score on 70 and the start of the 17 th over, Guy Whittall with his medium pacers replaced Olonga (4-0-15-0). The change in pace had Ramesh, on the front foot, dragging the first ball onto the stumps to be bowled for 31.
Robin Singh, in his 100 th one-day international, came out as a surprise number three, and was off the mark straight away with a little nudge towards square leg.
The Whittall cousins, Andrew the off-spinner, and Guy the seamer, put the brakes on the Indian run rate, with no boundaries and only 12 runs being scored between the 15 th and 20 th overs.
Singh brought up his first boundary with a lap sweep off Andrew Whittall in the 22 nd over and followed it, the next delivery with a sweep, clearing the infield, to the long leg boundary. The two boundaries injected Ganguly into action driving Guy Whittall to the wide long off fence.
Andy Whittall not believing that the left handed Singh could sweep, tempted him again on the leg stump and received the same medicine, a four to long leg. Changing his line to the off stump nearly brought him reward with a uppish push to point and then beating the edge to one turning across the batsman.
The 100 came up in the 24th over just before a mix-up between the batsmen nearly caused the run out of Singh but the throw went to the keeper and not the bowler.
Ganguly edged closer to his 50 with a great cover drive for four off Guy Whittall, and then with a prod to the off-side reached his 29 th one-day international 50.
Robin Singh must count himself very lucky. Going down the pitch after pushing to Andrew Whittall in the covers he scampered back to see the return make a direct hit on the stumps. Numerous replays seemed to indicate that he was short of his ground, and yet the third umpire, Athar Zaidi, decided that he was home. Was this another case of a mistake by the third umpire.
Using the life line given to him, Singh smashed a leg side delivery from Olonga, who had replaced Guy Whittall (6-0-28-1), well over fine leg for an amazing six.
Mbangwa was having a bit of a nightmare in the field. First he ran past a Ganguly four at third-man, off Olonga, and then dropped and palmed a fairly simple catch off the same batsman over the boundary at long on. Flower was a little bit more annoyed than Olonga. Ganguly had 68 at that stage and Mbangwa will long remember what Ganguly ended on.
Ganguly, striking the ball with excellent timing, started the 36 th over with a massive six over the head of bowler Flower. Singh not to be outdone smashed Mbangwa past mid-on in the next over, with the normally excellent Zimbabwe ground fielding leaving a lot to be desired.
Singh's luck eventually ran out, chipping a slower ball from Whittall into the covers to the substitute fielder Arnold Blignaut, on for Johnson. Singh had used his chances well ending on 41 and India 177/2.
Rahul Dravid joined Ganguly and, in the 41 st over, was the first to congratulate his colleague with his eighth 100, and second against Zimbabwe, in one-day internationals, when the latter pushed a single to mid on off Mbangwa. Ganguly did however have a scare at 97 when taking a quick single watched the underhand throw from mid off just miss with him still two meters out.
Whittall was welcomed back into the attack with Ganguly sending the ball soaring over the mid-wicket fence for the maximum. Two balls later the same medicine, this time well over long on to record 17 runs off the 43 rd over.
With Johnson having a groin injury, makeshift bowler Murray Goodwin was brought on and struck in his second over with Dravid, a long way down the wicket and playing across the line, adjudged LBW for 12 and India 213/3.
Captain Ajay Jadeja quickly into his stride, and only the third ball faced, flicked Goodwin handsomely over long leg for six. Trying to hit Olonga over the cover boundary was his undoing with Johnson making a good catch. Jadeja out for eight and India 224/4.
With five overs left and six wickets in hand Guy Fawkes came early to Nairobi. Ganguly had lit the fuse and exploded into life sending two balls from Andrew Whittall over the ropes for the maximum. With the fuse burnt out he lost his wicket to Olonga when he tried to clear the infield only to find Campbell under it at cover. Ganguly left, to a standing ovation, having scored 139 off 147 balls including 11 fours and five sixes leaving India on 245/5.
There was to be no let up for Zimbabwe. Sunil Joshi coming in at number seven, and a licence to hit, smashed two fours off Guy Whittall to bring up the 250 in the 48th over. He continued his attack on Olonga sending the pace bowler for a six over mid-on, and then Whittall again hitting the ball over the stand.
Revenge was sweet for Whittall as Joshi forcing, played well outside a ball to see his middle stump uprooted. A whirlwind innings of 25 off 13 balls came to an end. With three balls to go Bhardwaj (6*) and Nikhil Chopra (2*) had helped India to 277/6 and Zimbabwe were all but out of the tournament.
Guy Whittall had picked up 3/55 and Henry Olonga 2/48, but it was an innings purely belonging to Ganguly.
Neil Johnson, nursing a groin injury sustained when opening the bowling, and Grant Flower opened the innings for Zimbabwe, with the normal Indian pair of Venkatesh Prasad and Debashish Mohanty starting with the ball.
Johnson took three balls to pierce the off side field and race a cover drive to the fence off Prasad. Grant Flower took two balls to smash Mohanty past mid off for a four. A three to the extra cover fence off the third ball, and a lofted drive, by Johnson, over mid on off the fifth got Zimbabwe away to the start they needed.
Prasad and Mohanty came back strongly to give away only five runs in the next three overs.
Flower seemed to take a liking to the bowling of Mohanty. Charging the bowler at almost every opportunity he slashed him to the point boundary in the sixth over and then repeated a smash through the covers in the eighth. Prasad did not escape Flower's attention, being flicked neatly over mid-wicket for a four.
Chopra came on in the 10 th over. He was very well swept by Flower for a four to fine leg. Mohanty then dropped a sitter when Flower hit the ball straight at him at mid on. Flower increased the agony by swinging the fourth ball to the square leg fence and Zimbabwe's 50 in the 10 th over.
Flower's flutter was short lived. In attempting to clear the on side field, he found an eager Dravid waiting to take a good catch at mid-wicket. Flower was on his way for 38 and Zimbabwe's first wicket down at 52.
Johnson as did Flower, showed no respect to Mohanty crunching him back to the long on for a four and then stroking him square, past point, for a four.
A mix-up between the two batsmen, and a great bit of fielding by Chopra at third-man saw Campbell run out for two and Zimbabwe at 66/2.
Joshi made his appearance, bowling to Stuart Carlisle, who had two tournament ducks to his name. He nearly made it three but managed to edge a swing across the line to the on side. Carlisle deciding that the run rate was not what Zimbabwe needed, proceeded to smash Joshi over the mid-wicket fence for a six. He followed that with a cracking drive through the covers off Mohanty and then sent Bhardwaj well over the ropes at long on for a massive six.
Carlisle luck had to run out and eventually he help out to Dravid at mid-wicket off Mohanty for 21. Zimbabwe had slipped to 92/3 at the end of the 19 th over.
At the start of the 20 th over Johnson reverse swept Bhardwaj to short third-man. Mohanty missed it, kicked it, chased it and then just as he neared the boundary slipped up. Ramesh coming round to field missed the ball and nearly took out the advertising boards - a total comedy of errors.
Joshi and Chopra bowling in tandem managed to further restrict the batsmen. Joshi was the to be the most expensive of the two with Goodwin twice sweeping him to the long leg boundary in consecutive overs.
With a lot of shouting coming from the Indian players and the batsmen taking quick singles, overthrows were bound to happen. Robin Singh guilty of the first overthrow received a very convincing stare from captain Jadeja.
Goodwin on 11, looking for runs, chipped a catch to Jadeja at mid-wicket off Chopra and was followed first ball by Andrew Flower trapped on the back foot. Zimbabwe suddenly struggling at 120/5 with Johnson not out on 45.
Mohanty, who was having a shocker in the field, saw another ball slip through his legs. This time he got enough of something on the ball to stop it just short of the rope. Mohanty received applause from his teammates when the next ball to him was fielded at the first attempt.
Johnson went to his 50, Chopra's hatrick ball, with a four slashed through backward point where it was Ganguly's turn to see the ball slip through his legs. Jadeja at this stage implored his players to get their act together. It seemed to work with Joshi taking a great catch inches from the long on boundary to get rid of Johnson for 52. Chopra had taken three wickets in 2 overs and Zimbabwe now in trouble at 131/6.
Gavin Rennie and Guy Whittall, two new batsmen at the crease, pushed the ball around for a few singles before Rennie lashed out to cut Chopra past point. Ramesh brought on was also swept away by Rennie to square leg.
Bhardwaj was next to strike, after giving Whittall a four over mid-wicket, he had Rennie top edging a sweep to Robin Singh at mid-wicket for 20. Bhardwaj got his second wicket with Whittall holing out at long on to Prasad for 11 and Zimbabwe had slipped to 160/8.
Andrew Whittall and Olonga stuck around for a few overs with Whittall cutting Prasad through the point area for four in the 37 th over. With Whittall hitting Bhardwaj straight at Jadeja at mid-wicket for six, Zimbabwe was all but done. The match was over in the 39 th over when Olonga lost his wicket to Chopra for four and Zimbabwe were all out for 170.
Bhardwaj once again ended with three wickets and Chopra bagged four.