Given India's impressive record at home, a one-sided contest was
predicted on the eve of the five-match one-day series against
Zimbabwe. Some pundits even wrote of a 5-0 whitewash for the home
team. On the face of it, this did not seem to be far-fetched,
especially in the wake of the visitors losing both Tests. But two
important factors were conveniently overlooked. One, that Zimbabwe are
a better limited-overs team than a Test side, and secondly, that the
Indian team would be weakened by the absence of Sachin Tendulkar,
Virender Sehwag and Javagal Srinath, all unavailable for various
In my column on the eve of the one-day series, I had cautioned that
the Indian team would do well to not take the Zimbabweans too lightly.
I had mentioned that the visitors were not the same side that had lost
seven of eight matches played on two previous tours and had even
pointed out that one could not brush aside a team that had won a one
day series in New Zealand just a year ago. But even I had not
bargained for a scenario that envisaged India being down by two
matches to one in the series.
Indeed, the fourth game too was evenly poised until Yuvraj Singh and
Mohammad Kaif came up with their timely rescue act. Which means that
India came quite close to losing a series that, according to the
experts, was to have been a romp. Rather than blame India for huffing
and puffing their way to victory over opponents who seemingly were not
in their class, one should give Zimbabwe some credit.
I am inclined to agree with the views expressed by Stuart Carlisle.
The visiting skipper said that he was getting pretty much tired of his
side not being given enough credit for their good performances.
"Whenever we win, it is said that our opponents played badly. Why
don't the same people pat us for playing well?" was the gist of what
Carlisle said. For example, when Zimbabwe won at Kochi, much was made
of the poor batting of the Indians, while not enough credit was given
to Douglas Hondo's opening burst that paved the way for the victory.
Credit, however, was duly given to Douglas Marillier for playing what
was surely the knock of the series and in a contest that saw some
high-quality batting. A number 10 batsman hitting an unbeaten 56 off
24 balls is by itself a truly astonishing statistic. What made the
feat really astounding was the manner in which he batted.
The scoop - off the faster bowlers, mind you - that sent the ball
hurtling past the ropes behind the wicket-keeper was a stroke that
will not be found in any textbook. Even in limited-overs cricket,
where one has become used to seeing innovative shots like the reverse
sweep and hitting the ball inside-out to the boundary, "the
Marillier," as it will undoubtedly be termed, was a revelation. That
he did it repeatedly even with only the last man at the crease for
company - gave a storybook touch. Indeed, that first game at Faridabad
had the a storybook finish, with Zimbabwe winning by one wicket with
two balls to spare.
Already without three key players, the Indians suffered another
grievous blow when Anil Kumble was out of the series after the second
game through injury. But overcoming these handicaps, the Indians did
show some resilience in winning three of the next four games. The
credit should go mainly to the reserve strength. The non-availability
of the leading players gave the chance to fringe players like Dinesh
Mongia, Kaif and Yuvraj to take center-stage, and it must be said that
they made the most of their opportunities.
There has been much talk of late that the Indian team relies too much
on the established stars, leading to question marks being raised over
the reserve bench. The three youngsters proved that there is enough
depth in the batting should the stars be unavailable or go through a
lean trot. This is also a sign to the established players that they
cannot take their place for granted, and this has got to be a healthy
sign for Indian cricket. The series also underlined the fact that,
whatever his failings at the Test level, there is no mistaking Ajit
Agarkar's match-winning qualities when it comes to the limited-overs
It must have been galling for the Zimbabweans to come so close to
creating an upset and then getting pipped at the post. But, to be
candid, whatever the strength of their batting, their bowling was
quite amiable. Hondo's dream spell at Kochi was just one occasion when
everything came off. In the remaining matches, the bowlers made no
impression at all, a fact highlighted by the Indian totals of 241 for
six (in 48.1 overs) and 274 for six, 319 for six and 333 for six (all
in 50 overs). From Andy Flower, Grant Flower, Alistair Campbell and
Travis Friend, the Indian crowds saw batting of high entertainment
value. But in the ultimate analysis, it was Zimbabwe's weak bowling
that saw them lose the series.