Setting a team 320 for victory in a day-night one-dayer brimming over with excitement is a sure way to do one of two things - set up a tense run chase where the match goes right down to the wire or, more often than not, play the opposition right out of the game. At the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Mohali, India leveled the five-match series 1-1 against Zimbabwe with a convincing 64-run win.
The toss was crucial and, for the second time running, Sourav Ganguly won it and decided to bat. Heath Streak bowled a tight line to India's makeshift opening partnership of Sourav Ganguly and Dinesh Mongia. The former was troubled by the short ball, mis-hitting more than one pull shot but getting away with it.
Mongia, for his part, was content to play a sedate knock. Using the width afforded to him to good effect, the Punjab southpaw got the scoreboard moving at a steady pace. He was, however, less than convincing in his approach, and it came as no surprise that a mis-timed drive went straight down the throat of Travis Friend at mid-off. Despite being unattractive, Mongia's innings was of immense value. His 45 (52 balls, 9 fours) took India to 109 for the opening partnership.
After struggling to get his feet moving early on, Ganguly regained his old form, something usually signalled by a total domination of the bowlers in limited-overs cricket. Using his feet well, Ganguly came down the track with regularity, unmindful of the fact that Tatenda Taibu was standing up to the stumps to prevent just this.
The assualt had its effect on the Zimbabweans, with Friend losing his way completely in the middle overs. The medium-pacer bowled as many as five wides in a single over - the over lasted 11 balls - a clear reflection of the state of the match.
Once again, however, a century evaded Sourav Ganguly. After playing himself in well, the Indian skipper fell for 86 (83 balls, 8 fours, 3 sixes) in the 30th over of the day. By then, Ganguly had managed to pack enough punch to take India to a commanding position of 188/2 in 29.1 overs.
After the departure of Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid batted with a sense of urgency and purpose that is the exception rather than the rule in Indian cricket. Laxman continued from where he left off in the first game, with Dravid at the other end adopting a refreshingly brisk approach. The Karnataka middle-order batsman, usually slow and dour, played an innings of character, innovating at will - inside-out through the off-side, pulls that skipped away to the fence, a reverse-sweep that beat short-third man, and even an attempted scoop shot a la Marillier were on display.
Laxman, having reached a well-made 52 (72 balls, 3 fours), got the leading edge off an attempted pull shot. Trying to force the pace, Laxman spooned a catch off Travis Friend to Dion Ebrahim at point.
Dravid, unfazed by the fall of wickets at the other end, grew in confidence. He remained unbeaten on 66 (59 balls, 6 fours) as India put together a massive 319/6 in 50 overs. Harbhajan Singh (15 not out), cheered on by his home crowd, struck a couple of lusty blows towards the end. It was yet another disappointment with the bat for Sanjay Bangar, however. After lasting two balls for a duck in the first encounter, the all-rounder fell for a first-ball duck at Mohali.
With a massive target on the board, India merely had to stick to a good plan in order to restrict Zimbabwe. The early loss of Dion Ebrahim did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of Alistair Campbell and pinch-hitter Travis Friend. While Friend used the honest-to-goodness long-handle method to clear the infield and frustrate the bowlers, Campbell showed maturity and a sensible approach.
After making 64 (60 balls, 7 fours, 1 six), Friend was stumped off the skilful Harbhajan Singh, with Ajay Ratra doing a tidy job behind the stumps. Friend had been instrumental in adding a record 134 for the second wicket with Campbell.
Soon after Friend was taken care of, Harbhajan Singh sent Campbell packing. Straddling the crease, Campbell was trapped plumb in front when he missed a drifter from the offie. Campbell's 62 (74 balls, 8 fours) should really have been something far more substantial if Zimbabwe are to go the whole distance.
The rest of the Zimbabwe innings really lacked the conviction and character to pull off a chase of this proportion. When Andy Flower (29) chopped a ball from part-time left-arm spinner Dinesh Mongia onto his stumps, the writing was on the wall. Overnight sensation Douglas Marillier (2) also flopped, top-edging a sweep towards square-leg off Mongia; Ratra pouched the steepler with ease. Surprisingly enough, Mongia, who hardly bowls in domestic cricket, met with great success with his left-arm spin, ending with figures of 3-31.
It was then only a matter of completing the formalities as the Zimbabwean tail fell away to 255 all out in the face of an incredibly uphill climb to victory.