CricInfo at World Cup 1999
[The ICC Cricket World Cup - England 1999]

India v Zimbabwe Preview, 19 May 1999

by John Ward

Why you should watch: Do you need any reason apart from watching Sachin Tendulkar bat? This could be the match that decides India’s fate regarding the Super Six.

Zimbabwe player to watch: Neil Johnson

Indian player to watch: Do you really need us to tell you?

Listen on the stump mike for: Wide calls by the umpire if Zimbabwe’s bowlers cannot find their radar. Otherwise matches between these two teams tend to be quiet.

Neutrals may care to enjoy: The batting of Tendulkar, and spotting Zimbabwe coach Dave Houghton’s secret plan to handle him; the entertaining all-round skills of the extroverted Neil Johnson; hopefully, superb Zimbabwean fielding.

Schadenfreude potential: Watching Zimbabwe struggle to contain Tendulkar. Alternatively, watching India try to keep it all together if Tendulkar fails.

Old lags: Mohammad Azharuddin (36), Robin Singh (35).

Young pups: Ajit Agarkar (21).

CricInfo prediction: India - if Tendulkar comes off. Zimbabwe - if he doesn’t.

After their defeat against South Africa, India face a crucial match against Zimbabwe at Leicester, one of their ‘home’ grounds in England where they can be sure of strong local support. A loss here, which is quite possible given Zimbabwe’s rapid progress during the past year, would require them almost certainly to win all three of their remaining first-round matches to reach the Super Six.

Zimbabwe's victory over Kenya has given them some breathing space, as they need two victories in their next four matches to qualify. They are fortunate that the fixture list placed them against the weakest of their opponents first, allowing them to find some form and confidence after a disastrous warm-up programme.

As is the case with the West Indies and Brian Lara, India’s main hopes of victory lie squarely on the shoulders of Sachin Tendulkar. If he finds his best form, there is very little any team in the world can do about it, especially Zimbabwe, who rely on depth in talent and hard work rather than brilliant individual talent that can turn a match in a few minutes.

Zimbabwe have played ten one-day matches against India since the start of 1997, winning four, losing five and tying one. India owe three of their five victories mainly to Tendulkar; when he has failed, Zimbabwe have won more often than they have lost. Zimbabwe are now quite over-familiar with the Indian batting genius, and the keen tactical brain of Zimbabwe coach Dave Houghton will certainly have evolved a plan to deal with him in this match. The main interest, and the main factor in deciding this match, is how well that plan works.

Zimbabwe's catching may prove vital. Tendulkar’s two recent centuries against Zimbabwe both came after he had been dropped in the field. He is frequently compared to the great Don Bradman, but there is one crucial difference. Bradman was rarely known to loft the ball. Tendulkar does, and that may well prove his downfall.

Not that India’s other batsmen should be ignored: Ganguly, Dravid and Azhar are all major performers on paper, but it has so often recently been Tendulkar who has held it all together.

Zimbabwe's batting is less individually talented, but there is greater depth, with quality batsmen right down to number nine. Neil Johnson, who opens the batting, has swiftly emerged as a key performer with both bat and ball on this tour. Andy and Grant Flower, Murray Goodwin and Alistair Campbell are high-quality performers who are just beginning to find their feet. v Zimbabwe also have greater depth in bowling. India rely heavily on Javagal Srinath, who received good support from Venkatash Prasad against South Africa. Anil Kumble bowled adequately in that match, but not at his best. After that, India appear rather thin on the ground.

Zimbabwe's bowling attack has come a long way since the Indian tour of that country last September. In the first two one-day matches, their attack relied almost exclusively on Heath Streak, which also put too much pressure on their batsmen to score quickly, knowing they were short of firepower. Zimbabwe lost both those matches heavily, but the return of Eddo Brandes after injury for the third match turned the tables completely on the tourists.

Now Zimbabwe's bowling has improved so much, with the return of Johnson and the progress made by Pommie Mbangwa, that they can even afford to leave out Brandes and also their fastest bowler Henry Olonga. Their attack is completed by two accurate spinners in Paul Strang and Andrew Whittall, together with the nippy medium-pace of Guy Whittall.

Zimbabwe are likely to prove superior in fielding, although there were a few misses against Kenya. ‘Have you ever seen an Indian dive?’ asks Alistair Campbell. The expected negative answer is not altogether true, but certainly the hard bare outfields of their homeland discourage their players from risking plastic surgery by throwing themselves around as the Zimbabweans do.

The pressure is very much on India as they go into this match. How will the team in general, and Sachin Tendulkar in particular, be able to handle it?

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