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India complete crushing eight wicket triumph

India recorded an eight-wicket victory over Zimbabwe at Queens Sports Club soon after tea on the fourth day. They had little difficulty in wrapping up the Zimbabwe tail, with considerable help from the victims themselves, and then knocked off the required runs, with Shiv Sunder Das, after receiving one reprieve from the umpire and two from the fielders, scoring 82 not out.

Zimbabwe began the day 158 runs ahead of India with three wickets left. Grant Flower ran himself out for 71 in the third over of the day, chancing a single in the midwicket area, only for Rahul Dravid to score a direct hit on the stumps with the batsman seemingly unaware of the danger until it was too late. With him went Zimbabwe's already slim chances of taking the match into the fifth day.

The injured Henry Olonga did not last long before being yorked by Javagal Srinath without scoring. Andy Blignaut chose a couple of deliveries from Harbhajan Singh to hit well, striking a four and a six before a comedy of errors led to a fielder misjudging a catch and the bowler fumbling his return when there should have been a run-out. It continued as Blignaut snicked a ball behind the keeper and Brighton Watambwa (0), the non-striker, raced down the pitch for a quite unnecessary single when Blignaut wanted to keep the strike and was easily stranded and run out in mid-pitch. Zimbabwe finished ingloriously on 328, leaving India 184 to win. Srinath, with three for 71, returned the best figures.

Zimbabwe believed they had Das caught down the leg side off the second ball off their innings, but the umpire disagreed. This decision could hardly have been said to have affected the result of the match, but Zimbabwe might well have made India fight much harder had it gone in their favour. Watambwa was the bowler as both Heath Streak (knee) and Olonga (hamstring) were off the field with injuries, leaving the team with only three front-line bowlers, Blignaut and Brian Murphy being the others. Zimbabwe had no more chances before lunch, but forced India to work hard to score.

Zimbabwe had only themselves to blame for missing their next opportunity, just after lunch, as bowler Blignaut dropped a low return catch from Das when the latter had 18. He now began to hit out and take regular boundaries off Zimbabwe's depleted attack, but lost Ramesh (17), well caught at slip by Stuart Carlisle off a hard slash from the bowling of Blignaut. He reached his fifty with another chance, a difficult one in the gully.

VVS Laxman was next to enjoy a life, caught by substitute Mluleki Nkala on the long-leg boundary, only for the fielder to step over the rope as he took it. Laxman was soon driving the ball majestically, scoring at a speed that steadily reduced Das' hopes of a century. Then Grant Flower came on to bowl and off his second ball picked up a low return catch to dismiss Laxman for 38.Sachin Tendulkar seemed almost to toy with the bowling as he cruised to 36 not out, with Das on 82 when victory came.

Zimbabwe really lost this match on the first day, when they batted miserably on a pitch that was, as usual at this venue, ideal for batting from start to finish. They could never make up the lost ground and India, although perhaps there were areas where they might have played better, were never really in danger of losing their grip. It will require a much better and more consistent performance from Zimbabwe if they are to have any chance of levelling the two-match series. India have their first series win outside Asia in 15 years in their sights and will not lightly surrender their advantage.