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Strong youth showing augurs well for Indian cricket

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

Partab Ramchand
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 reasons.
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.
Yuvraj Singh
© CricInfo
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.
Dinesh Mongia
© CricInfo
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 game.
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.