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November 28, 2000

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Zimbabwe follow on, fight back

Prem Panicker

A superb unbeaten partnership between Alistair Campbell (83) and Andy Flower (88) saw Zimbabwe wipe out the deficit by close on day four, and put itself into a good position to save the Test. At stumps, Zimbabwe had made 238/3 in the second innings, leading India by 11 runs with seven wickets still standing.

Morning session

Javagal Srinath, who throughout the third day of the second Test had bowled just well enough to have the crowd going 'ooooh', but not well enough to actually break through, altered his line and length on the fourth morning and the results were immediate.

Late inswing to a ball of fullish length got Heath Streak (16 of 34 balls, Zimbabwe 359/7). Nkala fell to one going the other way, the line of off and late seam movement away geting the tail-ender to feather the edge through for Dahiya to take (Nkala 6/23, Zimbabwe 371/7), and Henry Olonga got cleaned up with a ball of very full length cutting back off the seam to go through the gate and rattle the stumps.

In between, Sunil Joshi who had taken up the attack at the other end adjusted his length, very full on day three, to a three quarter-ish mark, Bryan Murphy was foxed by the altered line and the flight into pushing forward without getting to the pitch of the ball, and the regulation bat-pad chance was snaffled by Shiv Sunder Das at short square.

Grant Flower (106 not out, 196 balls), for his part, played a superb hand, single-handedly attempting to take Zimbabwe past the 410-run mark and force India to bat again. Watching the tail come and go at the other end, Flower decided to attack, hitting Joshi clean and straight, time and again, to rack up the runs. It was a superb exhibition, more so coming from a batsman whose form and confidence hasn't been of the best, lately -- unfortunately for him, however, the tail proved incapable of resisting Srinath and Zimbabwe, starting the day on 359/6, folded for 382, 28 short of the follow on mark.

Ganguly promptly invited the tourists to bat again. And immediately, those watching were bemused by the sight of Agarkar and Zahir opening the bowling in tandem. Srinath had been bowling with great fire during the morning session, he was nicely warmed up and steaming in when he took out Olonga first ball, he had got a five minute breather, and you would have expected any fast bowler in the circumstances to be all fired up and ready to bowl.

Instead, we had him patrolling the outfield, ostensibly resting after his exertions. Srinath, in fact, has been needing a lot of rest lately, in a fashion that is positively geriatric -- the main strike bowler really needs to put in more of an effort in the field (a McGrath, or Donald, or one of those blokes in a situation like this would have had something to say if the captain had dared take the ball away from them) and if he doesn't, then the captain needs to go up to him and read the riot act. Given that Srinath has seemingly decided not to play too many one-dayers, he owes it to himself, and to his team, to put in the maximum in the Tests.

To make matters worse, Ajit Agarkar with a wide awayswinger managed to get Guy Whittall slashing wildly. There was a clearly audible noise as ball went past bat, Dahiya held and the Indians, who till then had been appealing for the most ludicrous reasons, failed to go up for the catch.

Fortunately, unlike in the first innings, Whittall couldn't capitalise on this let off. Sarandeep Singh, who took out Whittall in the first over he bowled to him in the first innings, was introduced into the attack first change (Srinath still 'resting' in the outfield) and the batsman, looking to hit the offie off his length, drove at one that was well flighted and spun sharply, getting the thick inside edge on the drive and giving Tendulkar an easy take at mid on.

Unlike in the first innings, Gavin Rennie played more positively here, looking to sweep Sarandeep Singh out of the attack and managing to land the shot successfully on a couple of occasions. At lunch Rennie, batting 23, and Stuart Carlisle, batting 5, took Zimbabwe in at 44/1 off 13 overs, still trailing India by 183 runs.

Post lunch session

Immediately after lunch, Ganguly rotated his rota of bowlers around, and quickly found the ideal combination of Sarandeep Singh and Sachin Tendulkar, both bowling off spin.

The two bowl different styles, and cause different problems for the batsmen. Run-making became impossible. The pressure in turn produced the fatal error as Stuart Carlisle, looking to try and hit Sarandeep off line and length, drove at a floater without getting to the pitch, got the toe of the bat on it and put it high in the air for Sachin Tendulkar to hold at mid on.

Two balls later, Sarandeep took out Gavin Rennie, drawing him forward with a ball nicely flighted and looped, then turned sharply away to take the edge. Ganguly at slip must have been unsighted by the keeper, which made the sharp reflex catch he took even more creditable.

From then on, Andy Flower and Alistair Campbell applied themselves to the job of batting Zimbabwe out of the hole. Patience and application of a high order were on view, Andy Flower for instance taking a good 25 deliveries to open his account. Both batsmen played circumspectly to the spinners and even against the pace of Srinath and Zahir, eschewed risks and ground their way through the rest of the session.

Post-lunch play produced 103 runs off 30 overs for the loss of two wickets and Zimbabwe went in to tea on 147/3, still 80 behind India. There are 33 overs still to be bowled in the day, plus a further 90 overs to be bowled on the final day -- time enough for India to push for the win, if the bowlers can keep attacking.

Post tea session

The final session of play, which eventually produced 91 runs off 33 overs, belonged entirely to Zimbabwe. Andy Flower and Alistair Campbell continued their rescue act, to such good effect that at stumps, Zimbabwe had wiped out the deficit and was now 11 runs ahead on the second innings.

Alistair Campbell's knock was one of character. Normally the sort of player who plays with a laidback fluency, Campbell has in the past been guilty of not putting a heavy enough price on his wicket, time and again giving it up after getting well set. This weakness has, among other things, ensured that while he has over 2000 Test runs to his name, he is yet to score his first Test hundred.

This time, the fluency was backed up by a grim determination to hang in there. Campbell focussed on tightening his defence, bat and pad very close together and the grip loose to counter the turning ball. And whenever he got the slightest leeway in terms of line, length and direction, his fluent strokeplay served to put the ball away.

Andy Flower's innings, meanwhile, merely continued the tremendous form the player has been throughout this year. Easy against pace, comfortable against spin, Flower concentrated on keeping his end going, using his trademark sweeps to ensure that the spinners did not dominate him, and keeping the board ticking along very nicely. The two have been together now for 59 overs, and added an invaluable 177 runs.

For India, the biggest disappointments must be the lack of penetration shown by Sunil Joshi on a track that afforded bounce and turn, and the minimal effort put in by Srinath. Joshi kept drifting down the wrong line, forcing his captain time and again to throw up his arms in frustraton -- and this erratic line ensured that all the pressure built up by Sarandeep at one end was promptly negated at the other end. Meanwhile Srinath, who normally uses a hard new ball to best advantage, appeared at the bowling crease for the first time, in this innings, after 26 overs had been bowled. And after four ordinary overs, vanished again into the outfield only to reappear in the 67th over of the innings, for another spell of four overs -- hardly the kind of workload you would expect from your premier bowler at a time when the side was hoping to push for a win.

Zimbabwe at close had batted itself into position to save the game. 90 overs remain to be bowled in the game. Andy Flower and Alistair Campbell have both batted themselves in, and are looking very confident against the Indian attack. To follow, is first innings centurion Grant Flower. India, thus, have a huge job ahead -- to first bowl out the remaining seven wickets, and then hit up the runs in the time available. The conditions are right, with the pitch showing signs of bounce and pronounced turn. The question is, will Joshi find his rhythm again? And will Srinath get back to active duty?

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