There were four great individual performances in this Test -- the bowling of Srinath (combined analysis 59.1-14-142-9); the remarkable combination of endurance and ability displayed by Andy Flower, who was on the field, either as batsman or as keeper, for all five days (253 runs), Tendulkar's stroke-filled batting in both innings, that helped India put on runs at a rapid pace just when it was required; and Rahul Dravid's return to prime form.
The result was an Indian win -- a result that, frankly, did not look possible at the end of day three. The home team got it right (well, almost) over the last two days of the Test, to get the result. Here's how the final day went.
Play resumed early in order to accomodate the overs left unfinished yesterday. Out on the ground, the hazy conditions made the 'bad light' of the previous evening look positively benign.
India needed quick wickets. To get those, India needed its fielders to snap up half chances. But then, we have tended to use the slip cordon not as an attacking weapon, but as what bureaucrats and police officials would call 'punishment transfer' -- if you've messed up with the ball or elsewhere in the field, the Indian captains down the years traditionally send you to stand in slips. Wierd, but as the saying goes, 'we are like that only'.
As early as the second over of Srinath's opening spell, a ball on impeccable line and length found Bryan Murphy's tentative edge -- and went through the slip cordon, with neither Sadagopan Ramesh nor VVS Laxman making the least effort to get to it.
Murphy, the nightwatchman, continued to use up overs, frustrating the Indians till finally, Srinath managed to find the edge again. This time, Dahiya held. Murphy, however, had scored six and more importantly, used up 42 precious deliveries.
At the other end, Andy Flower played with the calm good sense he has displayed right through this Test, harvesting as much as possible of the strike, putting away the bad balls, and grinding the bowlers into the ground with a minimum of fuss. His dimissal was fortuitous -- Ajit Agarkar, bowling over the wicket, angled one across to pitch just short on middle, the ball holding its line when it got Flower's pad around the off stump. The angle was taking the ball past the off stump -- only, umpire S Venkatraghavan (age 54, 40 Tests old as an umpire) thought otherwise and raised the finger (Flower 70 off 134 balls, with 12 fours and a six, Zimbabwe at that point 171/7, the wicket falling in the 55th over of the Zimbabwean innings).
Murli Karthik was making the ball bounce and turn, posing problems for the batsmen on view. The consistent turn Karthik got was what finally foxed Streak in the 58th over -- a well-disguised arm ball had the batsman playing for non-existent turn, the ball striking pad low and bang in front of off and middle (Streak 26 off 46, Zimbabwe 181/8).
That brought the brothers Strang together, and the match took a bizarre turn. Karthik had found a rhythm and just taken a wicket, so of course he deserved to be taken out of the attack immediately, being replaced by Sunil Joshi. Meanwhile, Ajit Agarkar picked the wrong moment to go into macho mode -- where the need was to bowl the wicket-taking line, Agarkar let fly with an endless stream of short-pitched deliveries. Very nice for the folks in the gallery, the sight of tailenders taking deliveries on their arms and bodies while the bowler followed through right down the length of the pitch to glare at the batsmen -- trouble was, every such wasted delivery was one less for the Indians to try for the eventual target.
Paul and Bryan Strang took Zimbabwe in to lunch at 207/8, a lead of 171 runs. During the session, 88 runs had been scored for the loss of three wickets, and 32 overs had been used up by Zimbabwe.
The second session began with Agarkar bowling to a field of just two slips. One over later, he was replaced by Sunil Joshi, while Srinath bowled at the other end. Joshi it was who got the breakthrough, when in his first over he tossed one right up, inviting Bryan Strang (15 off 32, 213/9 Zimbabwe, 72nd over) to have a hit. The batsman obliged, aiming over long on, the bounce and turn beat the shot, got the thick outer part of the bat and flared to mid off for a simple catch to Sachin Tendulkar .
Immediately thereafter, Joshi got one to bounce and turn, taking the upper edge of Olonga's horizontal-bat slash, only for Ganguly, who has had a horrid game of it in the slips, to react late and watch it go through. At that point, Zimbabwe was 218/9.
In the very next over, Srinath landed one on perfect line just around off, bringing Paul Strang forward for the seam movement to find the edge. A simple catch to the keeper, but Dahiya spoilt a perfect record in this Test by fluffing the sitter. Which incidentally took the tally of catches going down in the innings to five.
The Zimbabwe innings ended in fortuitous circumstances when a Srinath yorker (interesting, incidentally, to see the fast bowler bowl quite a few of those to the tail in this innings -- something he is not known for doing in the past) took the inner edge of Olonga's bat onto his toe. Umpire Venkatraghavan produced his second shocker of the innings, upholding the appeal -- a double error, since not only was there a touch, but in any case, the angle on the ball was taking it past leg stump.
The dodginess of the final dismissal apart, the heartening feature of the match thus far was the return to form of Javagal Srinath, who seems to have shaken off the rust accumulated over months of idleness, and who bowled a few very sharp spells in both innings. On the other hand, the continued lack of penetration shown by Ajit Agarkar, a distressing tendency to underbowl Murli Karthik (while on the subject, I can't figure why captains pick bowlers if they have no confidence in them), Sunil Joshi's lapse in form were the downsides -- which meant, effectively, that India had to do it all with just one bowler.
In the event, Zimbabwe ended up on 225 off 80.1 overs (a point to note here would be that Andy Flower's wicket had fallen off the last ball of the 55th, which gives you an indication of how many overs the last four batsmen managed to use up), a lead of 189 runs, leaving India 190 to get to win, off a maximum possible of 47 overs -- a nice little one day situation to round the match off.
Heath Streak, knowing he needed wickets to put pressure on the Indians and stop them from a run chase, set an attacking field of three slips, a gully, and a short square leg, and struck in his first over when Ramesh, to the second ball he faced, attempted to play a ball slightly short and angling across out on the leg side, got the thick outer edge, Paul Strang at second slip holding a terrific reflex catch.
Shiv Sundar Das was a young man in a hurry, looking for non-existent runs during his brief tenure at the wicket. That led to his downfall in the third over, when a Dravid push straight to Bryan Murphy saw the non-striker racing down the track. The pick up was good, the throw was spot on, and Das was a good foot or more out of his ground, reducing India to 15/2 and bringing first innings century-makers Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid back together.
Tendulkar patiently played himself in for a few balls, then opened out in a superb series of cover, square and straight drives, 20 of his first 21 runs (off 25 balls) coming in boundaries. That forced Streak to bring on the spin of Bryan Murphy, who was easily the best Zimbabwean bowler on view in the first innings.
This time round, Tendulkar apparently had Murphy sorted out. A cover drive, and two sweep-pulls taking the ball from outside off and blasting it through wide midwicket, had India racing to 75/2 in the 12th over, and Tendulkar to 39 off 38 balls. In the next over, Paul Strang's first, the bowler induced the indiscretion, with a ball bowled flatter and quicker. Tendulkar, who by that point was looking to blast everything out of the ground, went down the track in predetermined fashion, looking to swing over the top on the on, but only managing to get the toe of the bat on the turning ball for a looping catch on the off side.
Tendulkar fell for 39 off 39 with 8 fours, after figuring in a partnership of 65 in exactly 10 overs with Dravid for the third wicket. The two took India to 80/3, 110 runs short of the target, with 33 overs still in hand. The wicket fell at 80/3 in the 13th over, a run-rate at that point of 6.08.
India went in to tea having scored 84 runs for three wickets in 15 overs. Ganguly was yet to score, Dravid meanwhile having picked up the momentum of his marathon first innings to remain not out on 31 (39 deliveries). The ask, in the final session, was 106 in 32 overs with seven wickets in hand, and the hidden danger was that fading light, which had ensured that play was curtailed early on each of the first four days, might ensure that India didn't get their entire quota of overs.
Post tea, it was Ganguly's turn to hit the big ones, the spinners being targetted for his attention. At his best, Ganguly's use of the feet to spinners is spot on and his long hitting effortless -- traits that were on view here, as he first picked Paul Strang for a boundary over long off, then repeated his waltz to even better effect, lofting the next ball over long on for a huge six (two overs later, he was to do the same to Grant Flower). Paul Strang came in for more punishment in the next over when an injured finger saw him bow two wayward deliveries, one cover driven and the next pulled for fours, before going out of the attack with a finger injury.
Gangulydisplayed exemplary patience in this knock, seeming content to defend, and wait, for the bad ball which he then put away with clinical perfection. Murphy, who had earlier got stick from Tendulkar, was pulled over midwicket for a six to get Ganguly to his own half-century, then square cut imperiously for four more to further reduce the ask.
At the other end, Dravid with a minimum of fuss was going along very nicely (at drinks, for instance, when India had got to 167/3, Dravid had made 54 off 77 as against Ganguly's 58/72, and a feature of his play in this Test has been the freedom of his strokeplay), picking runs off in his favourite areas, keeping the momentum going and doing his bit to ensure that India stayed well ahead of the required run rate. The 50 of the 4th wicket partnership thus came off just 60 deliveries (India 130/3 in 23 overs, Dravid 40 off 55 and Ganguly 37/39).
India was coasting, and Streak's biggest problem was that his premier spinner, Murphy, had gone for 33 in 6, at an unaffordable rate of 5.5 per over. Paul Strang was out with injury, and the other bowlers in his arsenal failed to make any kind of impression on the Indian batsmen. Further, Streak was caught between the need to attack and take wickets, which meant keeping fielders up, and the equally pressing need to push them back and make sure that the free flow of runs was checked.
Zimbabwe needed a breakthrough, and their best chance came when Dravid went down the track looking to drive Murphy on the rise over the covers. The ball took the toe of the bat, richocheted off Andy Flower's grasping glove, and Campbell failed to snatch the rebound (for trivia buffs, Dravid was 41 at the time -- in the first innings, Campbell had put down an even easier chance when the batsman was on 40). Shortly thereafter, a front foot square drive off Murphy got Dravid to his 50, on the back of the double hundred in the first innings.
Barring that one stutter, the two batsmen did not give the opposing bowlers a glimmering of a chance, the win coming with ease in the 38th over, with 9 overs and 7 wickets still in hand. Dravid remained unbeaten, again, on 70 off 92 while Ganguly went back with 65 to his name off 90 deliveries.
And so, on to Nagpur, with a virtually unchanged side -- be interesting to see if the team management, at least now, will opt to play one batsman less, and one bowler more.
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