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December 8, 2000

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Flowers bloom in Zimbabwe win

Prem Panicker

In the final over of the Indian innings, Henry Olonga had been massacred. 4 sixes on the trot by Zahir Khan, 27 runs in the over, and at the break, one figured that Olonga had cost his team the game. The next time we saw him, Zimbabwe had lost two wickets off two balls, they had two balls left to play, one run to get, and Olonga was the last wicket left standing.

A calm chip over mid on, and Olonga had redeemed himself, hit the winning run, and in the process given Zimbabwe its first even ODI win against India on Indian soil.

As a game, this one deserves to go into the pages of Ripley, with fortunes swinging one way then the other so rapidly that after a point, you had to be a brave man to call the outcome.

This report needs to be a bit less detailed than our norm, due to a technical problem. Thus, we attempt here to look at the real key points of the game. India dropped Sriram and brought back Agarkar. Won the toss. And opted to bat.

Saurav Ganguly, coming on the back of a brilliant century, had one momentary lapse in concentration early, seemed to not see the ball at all, and lost his off stump.

From then on, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid got together in a very good collaboration. The pitch had a bit of two-faced bounce, the odd ball jumping, others staying down, shot making wasn't easy and Tendulkar and Dravid paced it just right. The former went berserk in the first 15 overs, going after Travis Friend in particular with a series of pulls, hooks and drives that saw India's first 100 coming off just 85 balls. With Dravid anchoring and Tendulkar doing the hitting, the 100 of the partnership came off 107 deliveries, and India at 122/1 in 20 overs seemed to be sitting pretty.

Dravid was anchoring well when an attempted sweep off Andy Flower found the top edge to backward square, and that started a slump. Yuvraj Singh and Ritender Sodhi both showed their lack of experience, attempting to force the ball on a track where guiding it around was the better option. And with their wickets falling in quick succession, India's momentum was checked, and the middle of the innings fell into a bit of a trough.

In between, a mix up caused the in-form Hemang Badani to be run out. Sachin was on strike, batting 99, and played one down at his feet. Badani, eager to see his partner get to the century, was backing up a long way, failed to make his ground when he was sent back, and India, 136/2 when Dravid was out, had slumped to 163/5 at the fall of Sodhi.

Sachin got to his 100 off 94 balls, the 27th in his ODI career -- an innings characterised by blazing strokeplay initially, and some sensible batting in the middle. Sunil Joshi once again showed off his batting skills in a nice little cameo, but India in the middle and latter part of its innings was always struggling to keep the momentum going -- thanks mainly to some thoughtful bowling by Grant Flower and Bryan Strang, who used the conditions beautifully.

Zahir Khan gave the home side an unlooked for bonus with a 32 off 11 cameo, the runs coming in the final over when Olonga produced a stream of full tosses and long hops that Zahir pulled, and straight drove, for four sixes in succession (not counting a wide that interrupted the sequence).

283 on the board was sufficient -- provided the Indian bowlers used the conditions to optimum advantage. And in the initial overs, they did just that -- Zahir make one kick off a length to get Campbell caught behind the wicket, Prasad took out Whittall with a leg cutter and then produced another to get rid of Carlisle, and Zimbabwe at 52/3 in 9.5 overs, seemed to be down and out.

Then the two Flowers got together, and the game changed character. Both batsmen produced a superlative demonstration of playing in adverse conditions. They were prepared to wait for the ball, play it late, ignore the high asking rate and concentrate on taking singles with some brilliant running between wickets. Their strike rotation was perfect, the understanding in their running on the short singles admirable and above all, the temperament they brought to their association was a model.

The Indian bowlers can take a large measure of the blame on themselves -- on conditions that suited them to a T, with the odd ball scooting along the ground while others reared off a length, Joshi in particular proved a disappointment. It was he who should have been the spearhead -- as it turned out, he proved to be the weak link. Surprisingly, the other bowler who, thanks to his angled deliveries on a length could have used the conditions well was Sodhi -- who ended up bowling just two overs.

None of this, however, takes credit away from the batsmen, who showed the patience to wait for the inevitable bad ball to come along. The association seemed set to take the game entirely away from India, when both brothers went in quick succession.

Prasad held one back, Grant Flower chipped in the air as he drove too early, and was held nicely at point. Immediately thereafter, Andy Flower called Rennie for a non-existent single, then sent him back and got him run out -- an act that made him so furious with himself that he flung his bat and gloves any which way. In that mood, he was a sitter for a good ball -- and Tendulkar obliged with a bouncing, turning off break that found his edge for Dahiya to hold well.

Zimbabwe had slumped from 209/3 to 214/6 inside seven deliveries -- and the momentum seemed to have swung back India's way, when Streak and Nkala got together in a brilliant partnership, the former playing aggressor initially, Nkala taking over with some clean, clinical hitting once his captain departed. Nkala's contribution is especially noteworthy -- for a lad that young to hold his nerve in the manner he did was a remarkable achievement. He left when the scores were tied, Olonga finished it off after Agarkar brought some drama into the game by taking out Friend first ball, and Zimbabwe had pulled off an outstanding win just when it looked like India was ready to wrap it up 3-0.

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