IND v SA (1)
Asia Cup (4)
Irani Trophy (1)
AUS v WI (2)
WI-W v NZ-W (2)
Legends League (2)
So Zimbabwe's one-day series in India ended with one victory and four defeats. Without wanting to sound pessimistic, this was perhaps the best result we might reasonably have expected, given the strength of the Indian batting and their significant home advantage. It would have taken either a superb Zimbabwe performance or a poor Indian one to earn us anything better than that.
FROM THE JAWS OF DEFEAT
Our one victory came in the third match when our middleand lower-order batsmen fought their way back from the verge of defeat. The great Sachin Tendulkar was virtually a one-man show in the Indian first innings. Then, chasing 283, we were 52 for three before - who else? - Andy and Grant Flower produced a fighting partnership of 158 before three quick wickets fell. We needed 70 runs off the last nine overs with only four wickets left, still pretty unlikely. Heath Streak hit boldly, but the real pleasure was in seeing 19-year-old Mluleki ('Syke') Nkala come to grips with international cricket after a difficult introduction and hit a superb 36. He also seemed to find some better bowling form in that match. Finally Henry Olonga scored the winning run as last man with just one ball to spare, which will probably be the achievement he will remember best in this series.
Henry, our most destructive bowler when on song, had nothing to sing about in that department. He has remodelled his action due to problems he had following through on the pitch, and has lost his leap and his pace. He was never quick enough to trouble the Indian batsmen and he was predictably omitted from the final match. I'm surprised Carl Rackemann, a superb bowling coach, has not found a satisfactory solution yet; surely he will do so before long.
Another factor that undoubtedly played its part in Zimbabwe's victory was their superior fielding. Throughout the series the Indian fielding has been mediocre overall, with a few honourable exceptions. The traditional Indian outfield is rough and sparsely grassed, which do not encourage fielders to throw themselves all over the place, although this is no excuse for inaccurate throwing. But the outfields are becoming greener and India will soon be catching up, no doubt.
OPENING THE BATTING
In this match Zimbabwe changed their opening pair yet again, staring with Alistair Campbell and Guy Whittall. They did not succeed in running each other out in making 28 together, as might so easily have happened, but the team selectors perhaps decided not to tempt fate any longer, and made yet another change for the fourth match. Whittall was shuttled down to number six again, and Trevor Madondo given his first international game of the tour, opening with Campbell. This is the eighth time Zimbabwe have changed their opening pair in 12 one-day internationals this season.
Their partnership of 60 together was the only bright spot of the match for Zimbabwe, and they did well enough to earn themselves a rare second chance in the final match. Their 32 apiece were the highest individual scores of an otherwise dismal match for the team, the poorest showing of the series. Once again Zimbabwe displayed their talent for inconsistency, a superb match performance being followed immediately by a very poor one.
THE TRAGEDY OF GANGULY
This fourth match was dominated by the Indian captain Saurav Ganguly, for both the right and the wrong reasons. His batting, bowling and captaincy were outstanding. He even outshone Tendulkar with the bat, he took five wickets with superb medium-paced bowling and he was on the ball throughout with bowling and fielding changes.
Before the match, however, match referee Barry Jarman, former Australian wicket-keeper, had spoken to both teams about the practice of over-appealing and pressurizing the umpires. Ganguly, perhaps overexcited with his own success, appealed too often and too forcefully, and behaved petulantly when his appeals were rejected.
Mr Jarman was forced to act decisively after his pre-match warning, otherwise the whole ICC system of match referees would have been brought into contempt. He suspended Ganguly for the final match, a courageous act as he had already required a police escort to protect him from violence. This was probably why the announcement of Ganguly's suspension was delayed.
I was both saddened and relieved by the news. It is sad that a great cricketer, especially after such a magnificent all-round performance, should have sullied his name with such misbehaviour, which is in clear contravention of the spirit of the game (2000 Code, Preamble, paragraphs 1, 4, 5 and 7) and the laws (Law 42.1 and 42.18). I was relieved to hear that we had a match referee with the courage to take a firm stand on the matter, rather than simply hand out meaningless fines and suspended sentences.
I would have felt just the same way were a Zimbabwean player involved, but no doubt this will not stop me from receiving the mail from certain supporters who refuse to accept that their own team or players can ever do anything wrong. The Zimbabweans generally handled the situation well. I feel Guy Whittall was justified in protesting to the umpires about Ganguly's behaviour, as they did not appear to have the nerve to confront the Indian captain on the field themselves. On the other hand, I feel it may have been funny for Bryan Strang to mimic Ganguly's tantrum when he had an appeal rejected, but he should have dropped the matter there. Further confrontation was not acceptable and merely aggravated the problem.
There have already been protests from some home supporters. They say Ganguly was merely playing the game aggressively. If so, when where must aggression stop, if not with the laws of the game as clearly set down? They say that other players, and they name Australians specifically, have behaved worse on the cricket field, especially 'sledging', and got away with it - and this is unfortunately true. The Zimbabweans generally do not have much of a problem with the Australians, who are at least friendly off the field.
The South African and New Zealand teams have also gained reputations for 'sledging' in recent years. Those who knew the New Zealand teams up until about ten years ago will find this change surprising, as they used to enjoy the reputation of being the most pleasant and sporting team on the international circuit. This seems to have changed when Martin Crowe took over as captain, after the retirement of Sir Richard Hadlee and several other leading players who had made New Zealand second only to West Indies at one time.
The Indians generally are among Zimbabwe's most pleasant opponents and one hopes their captain will not change that. As far as I am aware, Sachin Tendulkar has always set a fine example on the field of play and never stooped to unsporting behaviour or violating the spirit of the game, despite the adulation of a thousand million people. He is a wholly admirable role model and may the Indians seek to follow his example. As one Indian correspondent rightly wrote to me, cricket is no longer a gentleman's game. I am glad we can see the likes of Barry Jarman and Sachin Tendulkar striving to stem the tide.
IT WAS AVOIDABLE
Probably the Ganguly incident would never had happened had Duncan Fletcher's idea of allowing a side three opportunities in an innings to 'appeal to a higher court' via technology been in operation. He, or any other bowler in a similar position, could, if he really thought he had a genuine case, refer the matter to the third umpire. A batsman thinking himself wrongly dismissed would have similar right of appeal. The limit of three per side during the course of an innings would avoid numerous lengthy hold-ups and also prevent teams from using them as a tactical weapon.
A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
The loss of Ganguly actually worked to India's benefit in the final one-day international, as it put an extra load of responsibility on to their middle-order batsmen, who responded magnificently. Hemang Badani stabilized the innings after early Zimbabwean breakthroughs, and then an astounding partnership between Reetinder Sodhi and Ajit Agarkar against some of Zimbabwe's unfortunately familiar inaccurate bowling took the total past 300. At least the Zimbabwean batsmen put up a good show and for a while the team was competitive, but it lacked the one really major innings necessary to make a real challenge.
Trevor Madondo came close to that, though. A wild and undisciplined lifestyle has hindered his career in the past, but hopefully that is permanently behind him. He is not used to opening, but he began with some fine aggressive strokes and reached a fine fifty off only 40 balls. Unfortunately the strain and perhaps the heat then began to affect him, but his 71 was a fine performance and perhaps a turning point. For years Zimbabwe has been looking for a black batsman of real talent to go alongside their bowlers, and it would do cricket here a power of good if Madondo is now able to take the place his talent deserves. The future is in his hands.
There were several notable performances in club cricket last weekend and we have interviewed two of the most successful players, Neil Ferreira and David Mutendera, for this issue. We have also caught up with Everton Matambanadzo who is in prime all-round form for Universals. Next week, in our last issue of the year, we hope to include interviews with Paul Strang, especially with regard to his experiences in India, and Gus Mackay, whose superb all-round form in club cricket last weekend preceded his selection, for the first time at the age of 33, for the tour of New Zealand.