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November 26, 2000

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Sachin gets a double, India gets a grip

Prem Panicker

A century to Dravid, a double ton for Tendulkar and barring an unproductive session after lunch, good batting throughout saw India get a good grip on the game by stumps on day two. Zimbabwe, needing 410 to avoid the follow on after India declared at 609, ended the day on 59/1.

Morning session

For those who like good, competitive cricket, Nagpur was not the place to be on the second morning of the second Test. India packed too many guns against an attack that was little more than club class, reducing the morning session to one simple question -- would the batsmen be able to ram home the advantage, or would the sheer boredom of hitting everything in sight produce errors of judgement?

With Streak and Olonga opening the bowling with a newish ball, Zimbabwe needed a good start with the ball to peg back the Indians. What they got, was a Sachin Tendulkar who batted in a style completely at variance with what we saw on the evening of day one.

Starting off with a trademark cover drive, Tendulkar opened out in an array of shots that ensured that the bowlers couldn't settle down to any kind of decent line and length. At the other end Dravid, whose unbeaten saga began against Bangladesh in the second innings of the one off Test (thanks to all the readers who wrote in to point that out) continued, albeit with a bit of a stutter early on as, in his eagerness to get to that century, the batsman almost managed to run himself out when on 99. Tendulkar's call of NO on that occasion was loud enough to be heard not only by the batsman, but even by his parents sitting in far away Karnataka.

That stutter apart, Dravid got to his 8th Test hundred, settling back into his preferred mode of play, taking the singles and letting Tendulkar play assassin.

Sachin for his part just kept hitting, with metronomic regularity. Bryan Murphy was the only bowler, in the first Test, who had managed to keep Sachin quiet. Perhaps for that very reason, Tendulkar climbed into him as soon as he appeared at the bowling crease, a slashing cut through point and a savage pull in the first over ensuring that Murphy, like the others, was not allowed to settle into any kind of rhythm.

Tendulkar's 24th Test century came in the second hour of the morning, with India on 386/2. The 100 came off 155 balls, which meant that Tendulkar had, on the second morning, added 56 runs to his overnight score off just 58 deliveries.

Once that landmark was reached, Dravid too began to open his shoulders. A few of his shots went in the air, one of them in fact dangerously close to Whittall at midwicket, the fielder failing to react in time. But the intent was obvious -- to pile up runs in the heck of a hurry. The only answer the Zimbabwean skipper had was to get his spinners to go round the wicket and bowl a couple of feet wide of leg stump -- and the real pity, here, was that the ball was turning and bouncing when the bowlers bowled with a bit of flight and loop, there was scope for attacking the batsmen, but Zimbabwe preferred to go entirely on the defensive.

Trouble being that there were still too many gimme balls on offer -- as indicated by the 28 fours and one six the Indians hit during the session. India went in to lunch on 463/2, 30 overs having produced 157 runs at a cracking 5+ run rate in the morning, with Tendulkar scoring 93 of those. Dravid at the break was batting 153/282 balls, while Tendulkar went in on 142/199. The third wicket partnership has put on 236 off 339 deliveries thus far.

Post-lunch session

Zimbabwe began with pace at both ends, with bowlers taking their own time between deliveries and hugely defensive fields -- the gameplan obviously being to slow the game down and thus, delay the declaration as much as possible.

Dravid's seemingly endless vigil at the batting crease finally ended, 473 runs after it began in the second innings against Bangladesh in Dhaka. A Streak bouncer saw Dravid move into the pull, a shot he has played superbly right through the season -- this one, though, was a touch too close to the body, and the resulting fine edge was taken by a grateful Andy Flower, who has seen enough of Dravid's back to last him a lifetime (Dravid 162 off 301 balls, 20 fours, one six, the partnership for the third wicket 249 off 367 deliveries, the wicket falling with the score on 476/3).

One of these days I'll actually get to understand the thought processes of the Indian cricket team -- and that, for me, will be Thanksgiving Day. With the bowling collared and Ganguly, a freeflowing player if ever there was one, fresh to the crease, you would have expected a blistering assault. Instead, what you got was the kind of defence that would have been appropriate for a score of 20/3 on the first morning. It wasn't just Ganguly -- even Tendulkar, who till then seemed to be scoring fours off defensive pushes, went into a shell for some reason, with the result that one run was scored in five overs following Dravid's dismissal (in the first 50 minutes after lunch, India in fact scored 15 runs off 10 overs).

This tendency to take the foot off the pedal for no valid reason (we saw another example of that in the final session yesterday) won't cost them too dearly against teams like Zimbabwe -- but against a better bowling attack, India will find (as it has in the past) that if they allow bowlers to settle, it is very difficult to get the board moving again.

Tendulkar appeared, finally, to get bored -- out of the blue, this, he went from static to hyperactive, taking three fours off a Henry Olonga over and getting past his 150 and the team past the 500 mark in the process.

Ganguly, after a long period of defence, suddenly went down the track attempting to clear the infield. One attempt was successful, the next, against Grant Flower, not as the Indian captain miscued to mid off, ending his innings of 30 off 64 deliveries, and a partnership of 59 off 108 balls at just 3.28. (India 535/4).

India went in to tea at 546/4, having scored 83 runs for the loss of two wickets, off 26 overs, at 3.19 runs per over in this session -- a remarkable, and mystifying, contrast to the 5.2 runs per over scored in the previous session. Tendulkar went in on 183/261 while Ajit Agarkar, surprisingly promoted ahead of Dahiya and the hard-hitting Sunil Joshi, on 2/11.

Post tea Session

The Agarkar experiment, the point of which defeats me, ended soon after tea. The batsman has a huge, looping windup, which means his shotmaking particularly on the off is going to be somewhat limited. It also puts him at risk against the turning ball -- which Murphy exploited with one on off turning away, Agarkar looking to slog it somewhere out on the on managing only to get the thick outer edge for a looping catch that Streak took behind the bowler's back (Agarkar 12 off 27, partnership 29 in 40 deliveries, India 564/5).

Sunil Joshi, whose claims as a hard-hitting all-rounder are far more credible that Agarkar's, then came in and threw the bat around to good purpose. A very clean striker of the ball, Joshi has strokes on both sides of the wicket and, more to the point, hits very well through the line. It was, during this phase, pretty amusing to see Joshi hitting clean shots including three fours in succession off Olonga, and an unimpressed Saurav Ganguly, from the dressing room, frantically signalling to him to give the strike to Sachin and let him get to the 200.

This imperative of having to check his shots produced the wicket soon after India crossed the 600 mark, Joshi shaping to hit one from Andy Flower, then changing his mind and attempting to push the single on the on side only to pop it up for Bryan Murphy to take a great diving catch (Joshi 27 off 18 balls, four fours and a six, partnership 37 off 29 balls, India 601/6).

Sachin duly got to his double century (his second, out of 24th Test tons, making for a total of 50 international centuries, 281 balls, 27 fours, 71.5 strike rate) to cue Ganguly into applying the closure. The really notable feature of this knock was not the strokeplay (you would expect those anyway, from Sachin) but the fact that he was willing to hang around there for a long time, and not give it up through rash shotmaking once he had got himself set. And also the way he countered the negative line down leg side, 63 runs being taken in the fine leg region through a series of well controlled sweeps, paddles and glances.

India ended up with 609/6 declared, the runs coming off 156 overs at an overall strike rate of 3.91. The Zimbabwe bowlers struggled to find the right length to bowl and three Test innings later, haven't come even close to figuring it out.

The Zimbabwe response

Needing a hefty 410 just to avoid the follow-on and 21 overs to see through just to get to close on day two, Zimbabwe opened with vice-captain Guy Whittall in the unfamiliar number one slot, an indication of Grant Flower's lack of form and confidence. Srinath opened with four slips and a gully plus the man under the helmet on the on-side, as attacking a field as you see set for any Indian bowler. Zahir Khan, whose omission for the previous Test was "a mistake" according to his captain, ran in to a similar field. And both seamers immediately hit the right attacking length and line, just three quarters in the corridor close to off, hitting the seam and letting the ball do the rest.

Whittall looked good at the outset, with positive footwork while Rennie looked less than the part of an opener, pushing at deliveries without moving his feet and being very lucky to see edges flashing past the slip cordon. The Indian slip cordon wore a makeshift look, with the likes of Ramesh and Das joining Ganguly and substitute Laxman there -- the result, a tendency to stand deeper, and closer together, than you see top quality slip fielders doing. This in turn meant that edges went to the fielders on the bounce, to Srinath's evident disgust.

The heavily manned close cordon also meant that once the batsman got the ball through the infield, there were runs to be had and to Zimbabwe's credit, they ensured with some firm pushes and positive running that they didn't get bogged down. No team can survive for 3 days and a bit -- the tourists' best hope to save this one, thus, is to go for the 410 and ensure that India are forced to bat again.

Edges notwithstanding, Zimbabwe seemed to be surviving the new ball attack reasonably well when a needless run out ended the side's best opening partnership of the series. Rennie played one to mid on and though the fielder was well up, took off for a single that never was there. Agarkar at mid on hit with the direct throw, and Zimbabwe were 43/1, Rennie going for 19 off 27 in the 11th over. Zahir Khan almost took out Stuart Carlisle first ball but again, the ball dropped short of the slip cordon.

Whittall, not the best player you want to see of spin, handles pace well, and it was he who kept the Indian new ball bowlers at bay. By close, one thing was clear -- the spinners, if they can find the bottle to flight and loop, will get assistance on this track. There is turn and, more importantly, lots of bounce on offer as seen in Joshi's brief spell thus far.

Whittall with 34 off 60, and Carlisle with 4/23, took Zimbabwe home on 59/1, with bad light ending play five overs ahead of schedule.

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