India beat Zimbabwe in Sharjah
How do you put this? The best summation would be that when the credits and debits were all tallied up, the team that made the fewer mistakes won.
And if you wanted to pick the one outstanding performer from both sides, it had to be Zahir Khan. On a track with nothing on it for the bowlers, he produced a perfect opening spell, taking out two crucial wickets. And then came back at the death, with everything on the line, and produced a stream of yorkers that shut the door on the Zimbabweans, and helped take the pressure off the other bowlers.
Honourable mentions have to be Sunil Joshi, who came in for Kumble, produced the big hits in the slog overs, then bowled tight and with good control; and Vijay Dahiya, who for once, some overs to bat, and produced a stunning little cameo that helped India power its way to a winning total.
India pretty much got off on the wrong foot when Ganguly lost the toss and got inserted. This meant that the Indian bowlers would need to bowl second, and cope with the dew factor.
Ganguly experimented, asking Dravid to open with Sachin Tendulkar while he dropped himself down to four. His reasoning was that India needed someone in the middle to up the tempo, and as captain, he needed to take the onus on himself.
Tendulkar seemed to start off in the same fashion as in his previous innings, eschewing the big hits. Thus, when he got a nice little long hop on middle in the second over, from Bryan Strang, rather than blast it down the ground he opted to work it off his pads through midwicket, failed to keep it down, and saw Guy Whittall at midwicket dive and grass the chance.
After that let off, he seemed to reverse gear. To a ball from Streak outside off, he wound up for a huge drive, rather than the firm push he generally plays, and edged through to the keeper.
That brought Kambli to the wicket. The southpaw appeared, right at the outset, to have decided that the leg side was home for the day. Thus, to balls of fuller length, he went way across and clipped from off to leg and when it was even fractionally short, he launched into the pull. Trouble was, he wasn't picking the right ones to pull, and Travis Friend bowled a superlative line to him, keeping it around middle, and putting his back and shoulders into the ball to make it rear and cramp Kambli on the horizontal hits to leg. One such ball saw Kambli hopelessly out of position for the pull, ending up playing it to square leg for the simple dismissal. The batsman seemed to think the ball should have been no-balled for height, and indicated as much to the umpire -- unfortunately for him, though, the ball was fair, and his little protest could bring the added injury of getting him suspended for a game.
Ganguly came out at four, and looked in fine touch. It was interesting to see him go for the quick singles right from the outset, deliberately taking the pace off his shots to off and leg and race the singles with some good calling to boot -- a lesson appears to have been learnt from his previous outing. However, bowlers appear to have worked out that the leg side is a nice place to bowl to him -- Friend in particular kept that line to very good effect and, as has often happened with Ganguly, he got the touch he as he tried to move inside the line and play behind square on the on.
Yuvraj Singh, like Ganguly, appeared to have learnt learnt a lesson from his previous outing. This time round, rather than go hard at the ball, he was more prepared to wait and let it come on, playing his shots later and immediately, beginning to look dangerous again. The good thing about this youngster's batting is that he never misses out on a legitimate scoring opportunity -- to the spin of Viljoen, one superb, and an almost arrogant pull over midwicket, went for the maximum and, in the process, gave the becalmed Indian innings some momentum. A problem the Indians were having all along was that no sooner did any two batsmen settle down, and position themselves for a change of gears, than a wicket went down and the hard work had to be done all over again. Yuvraj's exuberance changed that, and increased the tempo at just the right point. Travis Friend got him out in strange circumstances -- the ball pitched leg, but Yuvraj moved so far inside the line that the umpire, thinking the ball was wide of leg, called wide even as the ball went on to clip leg stump.
Robin Singh, in next, played his usual style of game, tipping the ball around the square and racing the singles and occasional twos, to keep the board ticking over. He was in fact looking just about set and ready to open out, when an unfortunate dismissal accounted for him. Dravid hammered a straight drive that touched the tip of the bowler's fingers and richocheted onto his stumps with Robin a good few feet out of his ground.
All along, Rahul Dravid had played the anchor role, holding his own end up, occasionally playing some flowing shots, and showing an increased willingness to eschew his 'correct' play and innovate in search of the single. While the game was on, there was much discussion in the chat that accompanies our commentary, of how useless Rahul Dravid actually is. That sent me in search of ways to try and see just what, if any, the value of his innings was. And perhaps this graphic contains the answer.
As far as I can see, Dravid was involved in 6 partnerships. And he seems to have held his own in each of them, in terms of runs scored vis a vis balls faced. Which makes me wonder -- are we, increasingly, locking ourselves into perceptions and, in the process, failing to see what is actually going on out in the middle?
It was, though, first Sunil Joshi, then Vijay Dahiya -- the latter with some help from Ajit Agarkar -- that swung the game India's way with a superb burst of hitting at the death. The Zimbabwean bowlers tried, but failed, to keep the line full, and Joshi and Dahiya in particular took full toll, with some superb hitting in the V, time and again clearing the fielders and, in the last four overs, adding 50 plus to ensure that for the first time, India took maximum advantage of the death overs. Someone in chat was commenting, too, about Agarkar's little cameo of 12 off 6, and wondering how come he doesn't do it more often. I think a large part of the answer lies in the fact that the Zimbabwe bowlers made the mistake of bowling on the stumps to him. Agarkar handles that line well, since he does have the ability to hit hard and in the V -- it is when the ball is aimed outside off, and he is forced to play square, that he tends to play with bat away from body and get himself in trouble.
In the event, 265 was a very good score to have on the board. And Zimbabwe's response would have been crippled had Dravid at second slip reacted quicker when, in his very first over, Zahir Khan made one leave the left handed Alistair Campbell, beating the drive to find the edge. Dravid was a touch late lunging to his left, and failed to hang on.
Zahir on the day was in prime form, and the ball he produced to beat Marillier was a beauty. He first sent down a yorker that had the batsman scrambling to get his toes out of the way. The very next ball was slipped through quicker, angled across, hitting line of off and straightening to go past the defensive push and hit the off stump. Marillier, disturbed by that yorker, didn't know what line or length Zahir was going to bowl next, his defence was tentative, and Zahir took him with the perfect follow up ball.
And then he repeated the trick, this time against the free-scoring Campbell. After beating the bat with a couple of slower away-seamers outside off, Zahir suddenly stepped up his pace again. Campbell, anticipating another one outside off, already had his bat in the horizontal, shaping to cut, when the quicker one pitched just outside off and angled in, beating the batsman for pace to take out off stump. Campbell on that one was beaten for pace, the bat coming down after the ball had gone through.
That brought the in-form Andy Flower out to join Stuart Carlisle, and the former took charge with a display of cool, controlled batting that swung the game right back Zimbabwe's way. Check this chart out, for it tells the story of this phase of the game
Though Carlisle was rendered almost totally strokeless, Flower's easy, controlled batting, his ability to pick the gaps on both sides of the wicket, and most importantly, his ability to cope with quality spin bowling (as shown the other day when he consistently reverse-swept Muralitharan to desperation) ensured that at the 30 over mark, Zimbabwe at 127/2 were in fact better placed than India at 131/3, the four extra runs being more than compensated by the extra wicket India had lost at that point.
Though Zimbabwe at that point had to get 139 off 120 deliveries, the eight wickets in hand meant that the task was well within the realm of possibility.
At this point, Tendulkar turned it back for the Indians. Bowling his usual all sorts, he ensured that Flower never settled to any one brand of spin. And that mix of off and leg breaks saw Flower aiming the aerial sweep to the wrong ball -- looking for the leg break, he got the offie instead, the sweep got the high edge and went down Joshi's throat at wide mid off. That wicket was crucial, as it took out the man in form and ensured that Zimbabwe's rapid progress was momentarily halted.
Immediately thereafter, Joshi made it a double blow. Carlisle, after a very slow start, was slowly finding the range on his shots when Joshi took him out with some thoughtful bowling. Carlisle was looking to go after the left arm spinner, constantly moving around in his crease. Joshi as consistently began playing tricks with line and length, keeping the batsman unsettled. Carlisle, aiming to step away to leg and blast over the off cordon, telegraphed his intentions a touch too early, Joshi in the middle of his delivery changed the trajectory and where, earlier, he had been flighting the ball, he speared one in flat and fullish on middle to go under the flailing bat and peg back middle stump.
Suddenly, the momentum was broken. The two settled batsmen were back in the hut, two new batsmen were out there, and there wasn't enough time to settle.
Still, as evident from the progression chart Zimbabwe at 186/5 in 40 overs with a couple of big-hitters still to come, had the target well within their sights. And that was when Zahir Khan came back, with a spell of four overs that proved almost impossible to get away. Bowling into the blockhole as though radar controlled, he consistently went for three, four runs an over, each such over pushing the ask rate higher and, in the process, making up for some bad overs (a 15-run over from Sachin for example) bowled at the other end. Thus, each time Zimbabwe took risks at one end and pulled the ask rate down, Zahir responded with an over of immaculate control and pegged them right back. And added the icing to his efforts when he surprised the big hitting Viljoen with a sudden pacy lifter, just as the batsman was looking to give him the charge. Hopelessly out of position and off balance, Viljoen could only flail at the ball, getting the thin edge through to the keeper. As with Kambli in the Indian innings Viljoen seemed to think that the ball should have been no balled for height, but the replays made it clear that it was fair.
The risk was Agarkar, who has in the recent past shown a tendency to bowl all over the place. Here, he did bowl a couple down side that went for fours, and produced a long hop that Streak eased back over the straight field for a huge six, but he also kept producing dot balls with some good indipping full tosses and yorker length deliveries, and ensured that Zimbabwe didn't catch up with the ask. Once Zahir had finished his spell in the 48th, Agarkar produced a good 49th, barring the six by Streak, and Prasad rounded it off with a stream of slower balls to give India a 13-run win, and its first points in the competition.
Ganguly on the field kept his nerve very well, keeping cool even when Andy Flower and Stuart Carlisle looked to be batting India out of the game. The fielding got a touch ragged towards the end, but overall the Indians backed up their bowlers and Zahir Khan provided the one star turn a team needs, to make the difference.
The win must come as a relief to the Indians, who after a fine start in Kenya, have since lost two straight games, the first to New Zealand and then to Sri Lanka at the start of this tournament. This ends the first half of the round robin, with Lanka on four points and India on two. Action resumes on Wednesday, after a two-day break, and India will be looking to join Sri Lanka, which is now almost certain of its finals berth.
Meanwhile, here is the FULL SCOREBOARD WITH GRAPHIC ANALYSIS attached -- trawl through the worm charts, the team comparisons et al, you'll find much to add to the above report.
Mail Cricket Editor