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Match hangs in the balance after India lose Tendulkar, Dravid

After three days of the Second Test at Harare Sports Club, the match was still in the balance by the close, although solid batting second time round had perhaps given India a slight advantage

John Ward
After three days of the Second Test at Harare Sports Club, the match was still in the balance by the close, although solid batting second time round had perhaps given India a slight advantage. At 197 for four, they were 119 runs ahead with six wickets left and threatening to leave the home side a difficult target.
Zimbabwe began the day with a lead of 64 runs on first innings and two wickets left. Brian Murphy did not add to his overnight 17, driving irresponsibly at a full-length ball from Harbhajan Singh in his first over, when all that was required of him was support for Grant Flower, and lost his off stump.
Brighton Watambwa came in with a runner, after his hamstring strain, and held firm, but Flower fell for 86, well caught low down by VVS Laxman at slip off Javagal Srinath. Zimbabwe totalled 315, a lead of 78. With the strength of the Indian batting, this could be described as no better than `useful'.
Samir Dighe opened with Shiv Sunder Das for India second time round, but at first Zimbabwe's opening bowlers wasted the new ball, failing to make the batsmen play all too often. Then Dighe (4) followed a ball from Andy Blignaut outside the off stump and edged a catch to wicket-keeper Andy Flower.
Laxman did not look very comfortable at first and had a lucky escape when a miscued pull off Travis Friend lobbed high into a vacant area towards fine leg. He immediately celebrated with two magnificent cover-driven boundaries, followed by a fierce pull for four and an off-drive for three, all off Blignaut's next over. Then he lashed Friend square and Murphy picked up a sharp ground-level catch at point. The umpire did not refer the decision to the third umpire; a referral under existing technology could not have given a decision in time, and umpire Asoka de Silva is to be congratulated on having the courage of his convictions. Laxman was out for 20 and India were 32 for two.
Das and Tendulkar continued watchfully after lunch, steering India cautiously into the lead again and taking no chances. Zimbabwe bowled accurately to an off-side field, finding quite a bit of swing, and scoring opportunities were not frequent as each side strove to wear down the other. Zimbabwe, one seam bowler short with Watambwa injured, were at a disadvantage here over the long term, and the decision was taken to risk Guy Whittall's dodgy knee by giving him a spell.
Das has plenty of patience but Tendulkar restrained himself admirably, until in the thirties he felt settled enough to pull and cut Friend twice for four in an over. He reached his fifty just before tea. Zimbabwe had little for which to reprove themselves during the afternoon session, except possibly some lack of imagination, but were nevertheless helpless as the balance of the match swung slowly but steadily in India's favour. Their approach seemed to be simply to bowl tightly just outside off stump and wait for the batsmen to make a mistake, and India were batting with plenty of patience.
In the final session some poorer bowling enabled India to restart with confidence and the century partnership was reached. Das reached his fifty with a neat cut for four through the slips, but then Tendulkar (69) chopped at a ball from Streak outside off stump, for it to fly hard and straight to Grant Flower in the gully.
Thereafter the cricket slowed right down, as Zimbabwe continued to play a come-and-get-me policy, using mainly their seamers and giving leg-spinner Murphy little work. Das came almost to a standstill, while Rahul Dravid played the odd exquisite stroke to the odd loose ball. Had they stayed to the close, Zimbabwe would indeed have been struggling, but Andy Blignaut took the second new ball, due for the final over of the day, and had Dravid caught at the wicket for 26, a major blow for Zimbabwe. Das finished unbeaten with 68.