FORTUNE SMILES ON ZIMBABWE |
By John Ward - 19 May 1999
The Gods were not smiling on India at Leicester. Leicester, which has a large Indian population, was touted as a 'home' fixture. But India will probably be happy if they never play at Grace Road again. The bad day started when star batsman Tendulkar withdrew on hearing the news of his father's death in the early hours of the morning. Dropped catches and lucky edges dogged India for the rest of the day.
But India could not complain about the manner in which they ultimately lost the contest. A devastating spell from 'shock' bowler Henry Olonga was their undoing. In a move probably born of desperation, Campbell recalled Olonga for the last over, and in an incredible finish the pace bowler moved from zero to hero in the space of five deliveries.
A superb yorker bowled Srinath, and finally he won the game with an lbw decision from another full pitched ball to remove last man Prasad. The Super Six stage suddenly looks a long way off for India.
At the start of play, the pitch had a fair covering of grass but was hard underneath, and appeared to be a good batting pitch with perhaps some bounce for the pace bowlers. Mohammad Azharuddin won the toss for India and put Zimbabwe in to bat, doubtless with the usual expectation that the most life in the pitch would come early on.
Srinath in his first over concentrated on accuracy rather than pace, and the left-handed Johnson soon opened the scoring with a four through the covers. At the other end Prasad found quite a bit of movement, both batsmen scoring from the edge of the bat, and runs also came from a wide and a no-ball. Johnson was beaten outside the off stump, as was Grant Flower in Srinath's second over. Then he had Johnson caught at the wicket for 7 off a superb delivery that lifted and moved away and took the edge of the bat. Zimbabwe twelve for one.
Paul Strang again came in at the fall of the first wicket as a pinch-hitter, and there were immediately questions as to how effective this move would be while the Indian pacemen were bowling so well. Strang has a good temperament and an effective if unorthodox technique, but conditions at that time were not ideal for hitting. At first he concentrated on watching the ball carefully, helped by Srinath putting several deliveries outside off stump which did not require a stroke. At the other end Flower too was not comfortable. Prasad tested Flower's defence severely in his second over, although the batsman did manage a fierce cut for four between slip and gully off the fifth ball. Prasad responded with a fine delivery that moved away late and beat the batsman completely outside the off stump.
In Srinath's third over Strang edged a ball uppishly through the vacant third-slip position. India might have done well to bring in a third slip to support such fine bowling, but they continued to leave the gap open. Srinath at any rate tended to move the ball more into the batsman, causing Grant Flower to jack-knife into hurried defensive strokes.
In Prasad's fifth, eventful, over Strang turned a ball to square leg which only just fell short of a fielder. Later on Prasad twice beat Flower outside the off stump before he edged a ball uppishly, once again through third slip. Then a mistimed cover drive from Strang just cleared the fielder. India were bowling superbly but with little luck, but it finally turned. A superb yorker from Prasad shattered Strang's stumps as he went for another big hit and at last it appeared justice was reasserting itself.
The fifty came up in the twelfth over as Goodwin square-cut Prasad powerfully to the point boundary. The pitch was now showing signs of settling down, but Srinath still managed to produce a superb off-cutter which almost bowled Flower through the gate, and then a second that had Goodwin jabbing a ball desperately off his toes and almost overbalancing in the process.
Prasad seemed to be losing his effectiveness, though, as Goodwin again cut him to the ropes, and 10 runs came off his seventh over. No such liberties were possible with Srinath, aiming just outside the off stump and leaving the batsmen in doubt as to whether it would jag in or carry straight through.
When Ganguly replaced Prasad, and Robin Singh replaced Srinath runs began to come a little more comfortably, although Flower was nearly caught napping by a ball from Ganguly which bounced unexpectedly and had him lobbing the ball just short of the covers. Later in the over he mistimed a drive which cleared the cover field by no great margin.
When Kumble came on Zimbabwe had clearly decided that the best policy was to get after him, but he is too good a bowler for that to be easy. It was Ganguly who broke through, though, as Goodwin cut a short ball directly at the waist of Singh at gully. He made 17, and Zimbabwe were 87 for three. Once again Goodwin had reached double figures but failed to capitalise on a good start. He is a little too consistent for his own good.
Later in the over, with Andy Flower at the crease, Grant once again snicked a ball uppishly through the slips, this time for four. No slips were in position, and the lack of attention given by India in this area of the field cost them a number of runs and several possible wickets. Andy soon showed his skill against spinners when facing Kumble, working him away neatly and frequently behind square on both sides of the wicket. Once Andy had played himself in, he and Grant got up to their old tricks, scampering the quickest of short singles between wickets to the frustration of the fielders.
Ajit Agarkar replaced Ganguly at the pavilion end and bowled some testing deliveries, although his line strayed at times. He beat Grant several times outside off stump, coming very close to taking the edge. It was not one-way traffic, though, as Grant kept looking for runs and once hit him over his head to the sightscreen.
Immediately after drinks Jadeja came on to bowl and struck with his first delivery. Although it was a bad ball that would have been called a wide outside off stump had the batsman left it. Instead, Grant flashed and snicked a catch to the keeper. He had stayed a long time for his 45, and Zimbabwe were 143 for four.
The scoring rate slowed as Zimbabwe had to consolidate again, but Flower brought up the 150 with a superb clip off Srinath, off his toes, which soared over wide midwicket for a one-bounce four.
The two left-handers Andy Flower and Alistair Campbell continued to consolidate, although India again might have wondered if their luck was ever going to turn, as a couple of uppish attacking strokes sailed clear of the field, and a possible run-out against Campbell was missed when Agarkar fumbled a return from the field. But, once again just as Zimbabwe looked like building a major partnership, a wicket fell, as Campbell was beaten and stumped as he advanced down the pitch to Kumble. He scored 24.
Guy Whittall was bowled by a ball from Kumble that only just brushed the off stump hard enough to knock a bail off. Then a superb yorker from Srinath beat and bowled the new batsman Stuart Carlisle for a single. Flower and Streak had the job of maximising Zimbabwe's total in the final five overs. Streak at times perhaps should have concentrated more on taking singles to give the strike to Andy Flower rather than go for big hits. He did get in one massive drive that almost carried for six over extra cover, but then he hit a massive skier off Prasad that was eventually taken by the keeper.
Apart from two wides, Agarkar bowled a very skilful penultimate over of the innings, pitched right in the blockhole, and only three runs came off the bat. Prasad bowled the last over and dismissed Brandes, caught at the wicket for 2 off his second ball. Zimbabwe were now 251 for nine. A wide from Prasad brought up 50 extras, which was duly applauded by the crowd. Henry Olonga was unable to get away from the strike to allow Andy Flower to finish things off. But he did scrape a single off the final ball, giving Zimbabwe a reasonable score of 253, not perhaps as good as had been hoped for at one stage.
It was announced during the lunch interval that, as a result of a very slow Indian over-rate, they would have only 46 overs to chase their target of 253. India began their challenge with a bang, Saurav Ganguly dispatching a full toss from Eddo Brandes to the long-on boundary for four. Sadagopan Ramesh, standing in for Tendulkar, was also immediately off the mark, and eight runs came off the first over. Neil Johnson opened the bowling at the far end, and Ganguly drove him beautifully through the covers for four - before hooking him straight down the throat of Brandes on the fine leg boundary. He had looked in fine form during his brief innings, and his dismissal so quickly was a serious blow for India. He scored 9, and India were 13 for one.
Rahul Dravid came in and began slowly, before hitting a classic back-foot cover drive off Brandes' third over, followed by a clip to the long-leg boundary. Brandes was finding it difficult getting his direction right and tended to stray down the leg side. Ramesh was batting skilfully, keeping the score moving with well-placed strokes.
Heath Streak replaced Brandes after the latter's third over, and immediately started with a wide swinging away outside off stump. Dravid then slashed at another ball well wide off the off stump and was well caught low down by a diving Grant Flower at point. It was perhaps just India's luck that this uppish stroke should be within reach of a fielder. India were 44 for two, with Dravid out for 13.
Mohammad Azharuddin, the last of India's remaining experienced batsmen after the sad departure of Tendulkar, did not last long. He did not look particularly comfortable, and soon snicked a swinging ball from Streak to Campbell at first slip, to be out for 7.
The match had now swung very strongly Zimbabwe's way, with all India's top batsmen out of the way. However their bowling was still lacking in accuracy, and sensible batting from the remaining Indians might still have put their team back in the game.
Despite his wayward direction, Streak gave Jadeja a torrid over before the latter had scored, several times having him groping and missing and looking quite out of his depth. At the other end Johnson also bowled with much less control than he had shown against Kenya, and it seemed long overdue when Ramesh pulled a long hop for six over the square leg boundary.
Henry Olonga caused much interest as he came on to bowl, and should have run out Jadeja in his first over, as the batsman tried to commit suicide, playing a straight ball defensively on the leg side and starting off for a single without the approval of Ramesh. Olonga ran in to field himself but threw at the stumps and missed with Jadeja stranded halfway down the pitch; there would probably have been time for the keeper to run up to the stumps had Olonga been more patient.
Ramesh, immediately after reaching his fifty, skied a ball beyond extra cover, where Goodwin running back was just unable to hold on to what would have been a stupendous catch. Then he hit another lofted stroke just out of Whittall's reach. Then, almost immediately afterwards, it was a case of third time lucky, as Ramesh hit a catch straight to Goodwin at mid-on and the stand was broken on 99. Ramesh had made a valuable 55, but it was an unnecessary dismissal and at last opened the gate for Zimbabwe. Moments later, the change in India's luck seemed to be starting again, as Robin Singh drove uppishly towards long-off, just out of reach of the diving bowler Strang. Singh seemed determined to take the initiative; getting the strike back, he drove Strang for two well-timed boundaries.
Jadeja's valuable innings of 43 came to an end with a fine ball from Streak which moved back in and trapped him lbw in front of his stumps. The Zimbabwean spirits began to lift again as India were 174 for five, and a fine throw from Goodwin at mid-on ran out Agarkar as he tried to scramble a quick single; 175 for six now and the odds were swinging back to Zimbabwe again. India needed 78 off 78 balls with four wickets left.
Mongia played a waiting game: choosing the right ball and then hitting it with power. There was a controversial moment as a throw in accidentally hit Singh on the arm, and Mongia called for a run off the rebound.
The pair continued to pick up runs steadily, and once again the balance began to swing back towards India. Whittall came on again, with Campbell unable to trust any of his remaining pace bowlers, and he did the trick, bowling Mongia with a good off stump yorker as the batsman hit across the line. With only 46 overs permitted in their innings India needed 34 to win off their last five overs with 3 wickets left. Srinath, a good tail-end striker of the ball hit Strang for a big six over midwicket to ease the pressure on the Indians somewhat and another fierce six off Whittall appeared virtually to settle the matter.
And then on came Olonga.