The second day's play began badly for India, the Zimbabwean tail wagging merrily and pushing the score on to 287. Travis Friend was the party-pooper-in-chief for the Indians, making an unbeaten 60. As the day proceeded, however, things looked decisively up for the home side. Opener Shiv Sunder Das made his second Test ton, Rahul Dravid made an unbeaten half-century, and India reached 209/2 - still 88 behind.
One cannot ascertain whether Das has a marked preference for oranges, but he certainly likes the 'Orange City' of Nagpur. In the 66th over of the day, Das leaned back and punched a Trevor Gripper off-break through the covers to bring up his second successive ton at Nagpur. The victims the first time around were Zimbabwe as well, so perhaps it is just the bowling then, and not the venue. Dravid, who amassed 200 when these teams clashed at the same stadium the last time around, was happy to pick up an unbeaten 57.
It was on November 25th 2000 that Das brought up his maiden Test hundred. Stuart Carlisle will have bad memories of that match, but this one is shaping up to be just as bad. With Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly still to come, on paper, the best of the Indian batting sat in the pavilion for the entire day. Das, with his knock of 105 (203 b, 19x4 ) has made sure that Zimbabwe are on the back foot already. Unfortunately for the youngster, he chopped left-arm spinner Ray Price to Alistair Campbell at slip just before the close of play.
The scoring rate may be an unimpressive 2.82, but it will not bother the Indians too much. The bowlers are tired, the wicket still very much full of runs, and an all-out attack on the third day beckons temptingly.
Dravid clearly is not the man to take part in any such move. The Karnataka middle-order bat knows his place in the side, and indeed his role, and he was content just waiting for the loose ball. The Zimbabwean bowlers, unable to attack on this wicket, made the mistake of straying on the pads far too often and were duly punished. Dravid struck Brighton Watambwa beautifully through covers in the 72nd over of the innings to bring up his half century. The knock, that comes after a lay-off due to shoulder injury, included eight hits to the fence and came off 141 balls.
Deep Dasgupta, who did not have a particularly good time behind the stumps, contributed solidly with the bat. Never one to score very quickly, Dasgupta had just one departure from dourness when he stepped down the track and hit Price straight back over his head for a six. Apart from that, it was very much a slow plod from Dasgupta.
His vigil at the crease was brought to an end by a fine piece of bowling by the only spinner in this Zimbabwe team. Price, bowling around the wicket, bowled a tidy line, just short of a length and outside the off, spinning away a touch. Surprising Dasgupta, Price floated in an arm ball, the batsman shouldered arms and watched in amazement as the ball clipped the off-stump. Dasgupta's 33 saw India reach 79 for the fall for the first wicket.
But between the dismissals of Dasgupta and Das lay almost a whole day of attrition. Tomorrow India should shift gears. With Tendulkar at the crease, you can be sure that there will be a full house baying for boundaries. Whether the little master will oblige or not depends on how tidily Zimbabwe can bowl. If the bowling on the second day's play is anything to go by, Nagpur can be sure that the advertising hoardings on the boundary ropes will take a bit of a pounding.