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Dinesh Mongia clinches series 3-2 for India at Guwahati

One has a penchant for tall scores in domestic contests. The other has made a name for himself as a ferocious batsman who revels in hitting the cover off the ball to the point of driving bowlers to desperation. Dinesh Mongia and Yuvraj Singh's styles meshed perfectly and took India to a mammoth 333 for six in 50 overs, practically batting Zimbabwe out of the fifth and final one-dayer at Guwahati. Triumph by 101 runs followed as Zimbabwe wilted under the pressure of having to chase the huge score.

All things considered, it must be said that the match was taken far away from the visitors at the end of the Indian innings. Sure, cricket is a funny game and all that, but it is not that side-splittingly humourous. India had the better measure of a wicket that was on the slower side, had the superior firepower, and they held their collective nerve better on the big day.

Getting used to the pace of the track, Mongia was content working the ball well into the gaps, chipping away efficiently. Using the angled bat to great effect, Mongia provided a superb display of common-sense cricket.

Earlier in the innings, however, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman both fell cheaply. Rahul Dravid (26), who was clean-bowled by Douglas Hondo, and Mohammad Kaif (5) also failed to get going. India were then in a spot of bother at 157/4 in the 31st over, and there was a chance that the scoring rate would dip and pressure would build.

In the form he is in, however, it seems difficult to put pressure on Yuvraj Singh. The young left-hander, in sublime nick, got going from the very first ball. Punching through the covers with great placement and timing, Yuvraj sent the ball scurrying across the turf to the fence. Punjab teammate Mongia enjoyed the fireworks, and the pressure to score quickly lifted.

Zimbabwe's slow-medium bowlers struggled in the face of an all-out assault. Full tosses popped up with alarming regularity, and Yuvraj Singh nonchalantly clattered them away into the stands. There was almost no need for innovation as powerful drives had just enough zip to beat fielders who were scattered, jaded, and mostly reduced to spectators.

The last 10 overs of the Indian innings provided the kind of power hitting that makes the shoulders of the opposition sag. A mammoth 121 runs came in that period, and came rather freely. Gary Brent, who replaced the injured Pommie Mbangwa, took the brunt of the punishment, returning figures of 9-0-74-0.

Yuvraj's entertaining knock came to an end abruptly in the 49th over when he hit Douglas Marillier straight to Travis Friend at long on. Most captains, however, would have been pleased with Yuvraj's contribution - a sparkling 75 in just 52 balls with six fours and three sixes.

Mongia then set his sights firmly on a century and achieved the task with ease - and then some. Although it took him 121 balls and 11 boundaries to reach three figures, Mongia's foot seemed to be glued to the accelerator thereafter.

Making room on the legside and slicing the ball through point with disdain, hitting back over the bowler's head with power and placement, Mongia reached a mammoth 159 (147 balls, 17 fours, 1 six) as India amassed 333/6.

Then came the Zimbabwean reply. What would it take? A long, steady hand from Alistair Campbell at the top of the innings? A blinder of a ton from Andy Flower? Some late heroics from the unorthodox Dougie Marillier? All of the above, perhaps, but none were forthcoming.

As if chasing 334 for victory in a series decider were not difficult enough, match referee John Reid docked Zimbabwe two overs for not completing their quota of 50 in the allotted time.

A series of token contributions from the top order - Campbell (31), Dion Ebrahim (42), Travis Friend (31) - suggested that the Zimbabwe team were not about to keel over in a hurry. But the fact that none of the visitors made it to even the half-century mark made it nigh on impossible to put up a serious chase.

Grant Flower, with a valiant 48 (47 balls, 6 fours), helped keep the visitors' hopes alive before he became Zaheer Khan's first victim late in the order. Two balls later, a similar inswinging yorker took out the dangerous Marillier before he could get off the mark.

Tatenda Taibu too fell for a duck, being run out just before the innings ended. Gary Brent, who was punished earlier in the day, was the last wicket to fall, reverse-sweeping Harbhajan Singh to short third man. With 4/33 from 9.1 overs, Harbhajan Singh was easily the most successful bowler on the day. Zaheer Khan with 3/29 was not far behind.

The joy and relief on the faces of the Indian players was there for all to see when the game ended. Dinesh Mongia expectedly walked away with the Man of the Match and Man of the Series awards, and the youngster was all smiles. Success has come quite early for the hard-working Mongia, buth he should not get too carried away quite yet.

Funnily enough, a member of today's team, Vijay Bharadwaj, was the Man of the Series in his first-ever series - the LG Cup in Nairobi - only to be left out of the Indian team for some time to come. The youngsters of this Indian team thus need to keep their eyes keenly focussed on the World Cup that is now less than a year away.