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Mishra, Kale impress in drawn tour opener

A three-dayer on a batting paradise was the perfect recipe for a draw

Rajesh Kumar
A three-dayer on a batting paradise was the perfect recipe for a draw. So it came as no surprise when Zimbabwe and Indian Board President's XI trooped off after sharing honours on the final day of the lung-opener in Vijayawada.
Zimbabwe, who began the day on 292 for six, had to suffer the early mortification of seeing their star batsman Andy Flower miss a ton. Flower, who had batted beautifully on Saturday, was on 94 when he edged a delivery from off-spinner Sarandeep Singh into the waiting hands of silly-point. The premier Zimbabwean batsman had though done enough to serve notice of a return to top form after an uncharacteristically lean run in Sri Lanka recently.
Flower's dismissal led to the unfolding of the most riveting period of the match. Haryana leg-spinner Amit Mishra might have failed to gain a berth in the Indian team for the upcoming series, but if he continues to bowl as he did on Sunday the Indian selectors would not be able to deny him for long.
His leg-spin was refreshingly classical, down even to the occasional capriciousness of his bowling. Raymond Price, who replaced Flower, was Mishra's first victim on the day. The latter played 18 balls without scoring, before tapping a low full toss back into the bowler's hands.
Mishra's next wicket came off a beautiful delivery. Alistair Campbell, who had scratched around for 25 runs, thought he had a ball that pitched well outside his off-stump covered, but to his consternation it broke back from the rough to knock down his middle stump.
Last man Brighton Watambwa thrashed around during the briefest of stays before scooping Mishra into the hands of Sarandeep in the covers. The Haryana leggie's figures of six for 95 were particularly laudable as they came on a wicket with little life in it.
With less than a day's play remaining, the 21-run lead that Board President's XI eked out did not mean much. The home team captain Rahul Dravid decided to give first innings not out batsmen Abhijit Kale and Pravanjan Mullick a chance to impress the small gathering.
The duo almost immediately proceeded to do so. With the visiting fast bowlers pitching short, their job was made much easier. Cuts and pulls flowed from the bat as the score moved along at a handsome pace. The final ball of the eleventh over provided Zimbabwe a chance to claim Kale but Campbell at second slip muffed a straightforward catch.
Kale and Mullick, an impressive batsman with a penchant for the horizontal bat shots, reached the mid-forties at almost the same time. But once Kale brought up his fifty, he changed gears. Left-arm spinner Raymond Price and part-timer Trevor Gripper began to disappear to all parts of the ground. The Mumbai batsman, who has been a prolific run-getter in the Indian domestic circuit, came a long way down the track while carting the spinners. Price, who has come to India as a specialist spinner, seemed clueless in the face of such relentlessly aggressive attack. He surely would have to show a quantum improvement as a bowler if he is escape a similar mauling from the more illustrious Indian stars in the Tests.
Zimbabwe finally had to turn to medium-pacer, Travis Friend to earn them their only wicket in the Board President's XI second innings. Bowling with an old ball that was swinging appreciably, Friend managed to break through Kale's defences, uprooting his leg stump and leaving the latter stranded on 90.
After that there was little to play for and the two captains decided to call off the game after two more overs had been bowled.
Zimbabwe, who will now play their first Test in Nagpur from February 21-25, have to quickly get their act together. Their bowling was very ragged in this match and on the dead Indian wickets this would make them easy meat for the powerful Indian batting line-up. The batsmen too will have to put up a much-improved display if they are to shake-off the tag of being wholly reliant on Andy Flower.