It was an action packed opening day's play in the second Test match between India and Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club on Friday. After being restricted to 237 in their first innings, India struck back to dismiss three home team batsmen for 31 runs at stumps.
In generally fine weather, Sourav Ganguly won the toss and decided to bat on a good-looking batting pitch. Heath Streak, had he won the toss, said he would have decided to field in view of Zimbabwe's poor record batting first on this ground, but Ganguly's decision appeared correct in view of the conditions.
Zimbabwe replaced the injured Henry Olonga with pace-bowling allrounder Travis Friend, making his Test debut. India made two changes, replacing opener Sadagoppan Ramesh and left-arm pace bowler Zaheer Khan with Hemang Badani, also making his debut and Ajit Agarkar.
Before the start of play, the teams observed a minute's silence in memory of recent Test batsman Trevor Madondo, who died of cerebral malaria on Monday. Several hundred enthusiastic school children, bussed in by the Mashonaland Cricket Association, added atmosphere as Brighton Watambwa bowled a good opening over to Shiv Sunder Das. Quite a degree of bounce was evident, which would be of benefit to Zimbabwe.
Badani did not last long on his Test debut, scoring just two before being trapped lbw to a straight ball from Watambwa. Das and VVS Laxman had some taxing overs to face from both Watambwa and Streak, but they handled them well, taking runs off the odd stray delivery, usually to leg. Then Watambwa had to leave the field with a hamstring strain during his fourth over, and Friend took over. He was rather tentative, and the attack lost its menace.
At this point Streak produced a fine delivery that rose just outside off stump and Laxman (15), drawn into an unwise shot, edged a sharp catch to Andy Blignaut at second slip. Sachin Tendulkar made a slow start to his innings, but was ready to pounce on the bad ball and pulled a short ball from Friend for a huge six to square leg. For the most part, though, India were content to play out the morning session and departed for lunch with 85 on the board for two wickets, with Das on 44 and Tendulkar on 20.
After lunch, Tendulkar had not yet added to his score, when he suffered a rather unlucky dismissal. He moved too far across his stumps to a delivery from Streak, and the ball appeared to hit his pad and bounce off his boot on to his leg stump. Friend, gradually finding his feet, began to bowl with considerable hostility, but Das, playing a composed innings at all times, reached a creditable fifty. He fell for 57, though, as Blignaut got the first ball of a new spell to lift just outside the off stump, and the batsman got a thin edge to the keeper.
Rahul Dravid got off the mark in fine style, with a handsome off-drive for four, while Sourav Ganguly struggled in vain to find his touch before edging Streak to third slip with just nine runs to his credit. At 122 for five, with Streak bowling superbly, India were unexpectedly in trouble and Zimbabwe were rampant.
Dravid counter attacked with some classic strokes and Zimbabwe involuntarily released the pressure with some less accurate bowling, perhaps through striving too hard. Sameer Dighe (20) proved a good partner for Dravid until he became Friend's first Test wicket, slashing a catch to gully. At tea Zimbabwe still held the advantage, with India 166 for six with Dravid on 35 and Agarkar on 1.
Soon after resumption, Blignaut took his third catch of the innings at third slip as Agarkar (6) sparred at a short ball from Friend and provided the edge. Harbhajan Singh again proved a thorn in Zimbabwe's flesh with his unorthodox hitting, after an early lucky escape when he skied a ball into no-man's-land. It looked as if the curse of the eighth wicket was hitting Zimbabwe again until leg-spinner Brian Murphy brought a ball in to bowl Harbhajan through the gate for 31. India were 227 for eight after a stand of 55.
Javagal Srinath (0) was controversially given run out by the third umpire to a brilliant direct hit from Murphy, and the same player had Ashish Nehra (0) caught close in to end the innings. Dravid was left stranded with a fine 68. Streak with three for 69 was the best of the bowlers, while Friend was the most economical of the seamers.
An assessment of just how good or bad the Indian total was could not be made until Zimbabwe had batted. Zimbabwe had 13 overs to play out, light permitting. Guy Whittall (0) fell quickly to a superb low batpad catch by Dravid off Nehra, and then the same bowler had Stuart Carlisle (3) caught in the gully off a loose drive.
Alistair Campbell (8) followed, driving across the line at Nehra to lose his off stump and reduce his team to 18 for three. Nehra had taken all three wickets in his first three overs and Zimbabwe had already thrown away their hard-earned advantage. Well as Srinath and Nehra bowled, only Whittall could escape blame. Ebrahim, to his credit, continued to bat positively and finished the day unbeaten on 13, partnered by Andy Flower with 5.