Zimbabwe give India a fright

India have, as expected, won today’s penultimate match of the tri-series, but it was not without a fright as Zimbabwe put in a huge performance with both bat and ball to make sure that India really had to work hard for the win. Even without their best player in Heath Streak through injury, Zimbabwe put in their best performance of their home summer so far and can now head towards the test series against India in a more positive frame of mind.

The beginning of Zimbabwe’s innings, after having lost the toss and been put in to bat, would be seen by the home side as disastrous but India’s teenaged debutant Rudra Pratap Singh would have had a very different view. His first wicket in international cricket came in the third over of the innings, and his second, as he trapped Vusi Sibanda LBW with a beautiful inswinger, and his replacement at the crease Hamilton Masakadza was Singh’s second victim later in the same over, hitting a return catch off an equally good ball without any addition to the score, which was now 4/2, anything defendable looking very distant, a situation predicted by most.

India’s fielding was a major feature in their victory over New Zealand on Friday, in which they produced two superb direct hits to dismiss two of the New Zealand batsmen. Yuvraj Singh continued this with yet another direct hit, this one ending a promising partnership of 46 runs in just over 10 overs between Tatenda Taibu and Brendan Taylor, the latter being the victim as a mix-up between the two left him stranded outside his crease.

Charles Coventry came out to join Taibu in the middle, and what followed in the next 22 overs was against most predictions and India’s match plan. The two became very comfortable at the crease and scored runs quickly, and both reached well-deserved fifties. Thoughts of reaching triple figures for the first time in one-day international cricket must have crossed Taibu’s mind before he was clean bowled by Jai P Yadav for 71, Zimbabwe in a much more desirable position at 166/4.

Coventry remained at the crease a while longer, and with Andy Blignaut in an aggressive mood at the other end he picked up his scoring rate noticeably and the two batsmen started scoring runs in multiples of four and six. The rapid partnership included a single over from Indian captain Saurav Ganguly in which no less than fifteen runs were scored. Coventry reached 74, by far his career best score, before being caught behind off the bowling of Ajit Agarkar.

The following over Blignaut’s speedy 41 from just 26 deliveries was ended by a MS Dhoni stumping off Harbhajan Singh. Before these two wickets fell Zimbabwe were 227/4 and looking at a big score, but at 232/6 they had to reduce their ambitions. Although they continued to play with intent to score quickly, they lost wickets at regular intervals, Agarkar finishing with 3/34, and they lost their tenth wicket on the last ball of the 50th over, all out for 250. Although this is significantly higher than they would have been expecting before the start of the game and after the second wicket fell with the score at 4, they would have been a bit disappointed at the lunch break to have not made the most of the opportunity that arose from having 227 on the board with six wickets to spare in the 45th over.

Zimbabwe’s attempt to defend their total couldn’t have started much better, the dangerous opening pair of Ganguly and Virender Sehwag were both removed inside the first six overs, Sehwag clean bowled by Blessing Mahwire for 12 and Ganguly caught by Sibanda off Anthony Ireland for 2, and India found themselves in some trouble at 24/2.

It got even worse for India only ten runs later as Rahul Dravid played a ball from Mahwire on to his own stumps, making the score 34/3, a less than perfect start to their chase, a much worse start than they made against a more accomplished New Zealand attack when successfully chasing a larger total on Friday.

Scarcely believably, it got even worse as Kaif, following his matchwinning hundred on Friday, managed just 8 before being caught in front by Blignaut. Zimbabwe had a better start to their bowling effort than they could have ever expected, having India in deep trouble at 36/4.

Yuvraj Singh and Venugopal Rao together tried to get India’s chase back on target, but the required run rate continued to grow and the task was rapidly becoming quite difficult. But they gradually increased the scoring rate as the partnership developed, it reaching 55 in 15 overs before Zimbabwe joined in the direct hit trend, with substitute Keith Dabengwa responsible for the direct hit that ended Venugopal Rao’s promising innings of 27. MS Dhoni was the next batsman to walk out and join Yuvraj in the middle to form a crucial partnership, if it could be broken early Zimbabwe would be in an almost unbeatable position. India were certainly in need of a big partnership between these two fast scoring batsmen, as the required run rate was now in excess of 6 runs per over, a very tough ask.

Dhoni and Yuvraj scored at an improved rate, their fifty partnership, the second in a row for India, came up from just under nine overs. An increased run rate but not enough to stop the required rate’s steadily continuing rise, now above six and a half per over with sixteen left.

Some tight overs followed from Dabengwa and the inexperienced Sean Williams, but Dhoni relieved some of the pressure with a six off the first ball of the 39th over, an over which ended up costing fifteen runs and swinging the momentum in India’s direction, as after an eight run over after that India were left with the task of scoring 68 from the last 60 balls, looking a lot easier than it had before the previous two overs.

The Indian batsmen scored quickly in the next few overs and victory was soon beyond doubt, with the 100 partnership and Yuvraj Singh’s fourth ODI century coming up in the process, only for him to fall for 120 with victory just two runs away, caught by Dabengwa off Blignaut. Dhoni ended the match in style the following over, hitting his third six to take India to victory with 11 balls to spare.

The four wicket margin and big scores to Yuvraj and Dhoni suggest an easier victory than it was however, as India were reduced to 34/4 and 97/5 before pulling their chase together and reaching the target. The target was in itself a lot higher than most were expecting at the start of the day, so Zimbabwe can certainly be happy with today’s effort, maybe more so than the Indians, who now look ahead to Tuesday’s final against a more talented New Zealand side. With the damage Mahwire managed to cause to India’s top order today, the prospect of facing Shane Bond is a slightly nerve-wracking one.

Match Summary:

Zimbabwe 250 all out
Charles Coventry 74, Tatenda Taibu 71
Ajit Agarkar 3-34, RP Singh 2-44

India 255-6
Yuvraj Singh 120, MS Dhoni 67no
Blessing Mahwire 2-40, Andy Blignaut 2-54

India won by 4 wickets.

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