It was surprising that, with one hand apparently firmly on their first
overseas Test series victory since 1986, India should relax their grip
and allow Zimbabwe to scrape home to level the series in the Second
Well though Zimbabwe played at the Harare Sports Club, the result was
perhaps due more to India's failures with the bat than any other
factor. Both Test matches had in common the fact that the team winning
the toss wasted that advantage by batting badly and eventually losing
the match. In Bulawayo it was Zimbabwe; in Harare it was India.
India's 237 on the first day of the Harare Test was a poor effort
which reflected on the lack of application of their batsmen, most of
whom fell to soft dismissals. They fought back with three quick
Zimbabwean wickets before the close.
The first turning point of the game came when Grant Flower dug in and
shared fighting partnerships with the all-rounders in the team,
earning Zimbabwe what was really no more than a useful lead of 78 on
first innings. The pitch was sound for batting, even if the ball did
not come on to the bat as well as the players would have liked, and
with India's batting power it was quite possible that in the second
innings they would be able to set a target that was beyond Zimbabwe's
The Zimbabwean team is still not as confident with the bat as it
should be. The Flower brothers and Heath Streak have shown they can
handle pressure, but the rest, for the most part, have too many
failures under pressure behind them or were untested in that kind of
situation. A total of 63 all out when chasing 99 against West Indies
last year, under admittedly more difficult circumstances, is an
example of what can still happen all too easily under pressure. I said
at the time that if Zimbabwe failed to bowl out India for less than
200 in the second innings, they could be in trouble.
One over from the end of the fourth day, Zimbabwe were indeed heading
for trouble. India were 197 for three in their second innings. The
second new ball was available for just one over before the close, and
Zimbabwe took it. This was the second turning point of the match. Andy
Blignaut had Rahul Dravid caught at the wicket, and they followed it
up in the first half-hour of the fourth day with four more wickets for
just 10 runs.
Zimbabwe were set 157 to win, in theory not a difficult target under
the circumstances. But, with Zimbabwe's past record, it was not a
foregone conclusion, and it was indeed to prove a tense struggle. The
final turning point of the game was the innings of Stuart Carlisle.
Carlisle has no great record in Test cricket, with an average in the
twenties and, before this innings, only four fifties to his credit,
the highest of which was 58. He often stabilized an innings at number
three with a solid twenty or thirty, before getting out just as he was
looking well set. But the Zimbabwean players and selectors know him as
a man with a big heart, one who is dedicated to his game and a
On this day Carlisle got his reward with what must, under the
circumstances, go down as one of the most vital innings ever played
for Zimbabwe in a Test match. With Andy Flower suffering a finger
injury, the team as a whole must have suffered a psychological setback
in chasing their target. But Carlisle was the man who put his hand up,
with an innings of superb temperament and judgement. He played
scarcely a false shot in seeing his team home with a new Test best of
62 not out. Single-minded determination was the hallmark of his
innings, evident in every ball he faced. It is to be hoped that this
innings will give him the confidence to go on to greater things and
higher scores in future.
There was much good bowling from both sides. Zimbabwe had to struggle
for runs throughout the match against the Indian pace attack of
Javagal Srinath - below his best in the first innings but magnificent
in the second - Ajit Agarkar, who was most unlucky, and Ashish Nehra,
perhaps the find of the tour for India. Then there was Harbhajan
Singh, who was never mastered by the Zimbabweans, but neither did they
let him intimidate them.
Zimbabwe, for their part, also benefited from fine bowling by Heath
Streak, Travis Friend, on his debut, and Andy Blignaut, who won the
Man of the Match award and was often superb. They bowled a tight offstump line, perhaps a little too defensively at times, but it kept the
Indian batsmen in check during that crucial second innings when they
looked ready to take the game out of Zimbabwe's reach.
Both sides fielded superbly. Zimbabwe have always been known for this
virtue, but India often matched them. The Indian close catching in the
series has frequently been brilliant, with Shiv Sunder Das, Rahul
Dravid and VVS Laxman all worthy of special mention.
It has been a good series, and it was a pity the Zimbabwe Cricket
Union were unwilling to play a three-match series, for financial
reasons, so there could be a decider. The series draw will no doubt
increase India's desire to win the triangular tournament, starting on
Saturday, so as to salvage a rare triumph from an overseas tour.