5th ODI: India v Zimbabwe at Guwahati, 19 Mar 2002
Anand Vasu

India innings: 25 overs, End of innings,
Pre-game: Toss & Teams,
Zimbabwe innings: 25 overs, End of match,

After a spirited innings from Heath Streak late in the innings, there was little left to do for the Indians but mop up the Zimbabwean tail and put an end to the match and the series. Zaheer Khan did what he does best – fire in the yorkers – and India sealed the five-match series 3-2. The win by 101 runs in the final game put the issue beyond doubt.

From the half-way mark of 122/4 in 25 overs, Zimbabwe added just 110 runs before being all out for 232 in 42.1 overs.

Grant Flower, with a valiant 48 (47 balls, 6 fours) helped keep the visitors’ hopes alive before he became Zaheer Khan’s first victim late in the order. Two balls later, a similar inswinging yorker took out the dangerous Douglas Marillier before the lad could get off the mark.

Tatenda Taibu too fell for a duck, being run out just before the innings ended. Gary Brent, who was punished earlier in the day, was the last wicket to fall, reverse-sweeping Harbhajan Singh to short third man. With 4/33 from 9.1 overs, Harbhajan Singh was easily the most successful bowler on the day. Zaheer Khan with 3/29 was not far behind.

The joy and relief on the faces of the Indian players was there for all to see when the game ended.

As if chasing 334 for victory in a series decider were not difficult enough, match referee John Reid docked Zimbabwe two overs for not completing their quota off 50 in the allotted time. The target of 334 from 48 overs at a rate of 6.95 an over proved to be a very daunting task. After beginning in a confused manner, Zimbabwe lost wickets at regular intervals and were restricted to 122/4 in their first 25 overs.

The 50-run partnership for the opening stand came up quite nicely – if not fast enough. After 10 overs, there looked to be some hope for the visitors. And then the slide began. Alistair Campbell (31, 38 balls, 4 fours) mis-hit a lofted off-drive off Zaheer Khan to Vijay Bharadwaj at mid-off.

Travis Friend, who had a bit of a nightmare with the ball during this series, did his bit as pinch hitter. Driving through the off-side with the full face of the bat, Friend made maximum use of any loose balls on offer. The Indian medium-pacers however, caught on quickly and began to cramp the bowling all-rounder.

When Harbhajan Singh was introduced into the attack, a frustrated Friend (31, 34 balls, 4 fours) jumped down the track to be beaten in the air and off the wicket. Ajay Ratra completed a neat stumping.

Just three balls later, Zimbabwe’s hopes all but evaporated when their number one batsman, Andy Flower (1), was brilliantly caught by Zaheer Khan back-pedalling at mid-off. Harbhajan Singh whooped in delight, knowing how important that wicket was.

Dion Ebrahim put up a staunch fight at one end. The compact batsman kept the scoreboard ticking over but clearly found the task at hand a bit too difficult. Not the kind of player who goes for too many big shots, Ebrahim (42, 69 balls, 2 fours) fell trying to force the pace, bowled around his legs by Sourav Ganguly.

At this stage Zimbabwe were 114/4 off 23.1 overs and looking down the barrel. Grant Flower and Stuart Carlisle were fresh at the crease taking the visitors forward.

One has a penchant for tall scores in domestic competitions. The other has made a name for himself as a ferocious batsman who revels in hitting the cover off the ball to the point of driving bowlers to desperation. Dinesh Mongia and Yuvraj Singh's styles meshed perfectly in the middle overs to take India to a commanding 333/6 in 50 overs and make life very difficult for Zimbabwe.

With the wicket slowing down quite appreciably, the pair went about batting in a sensible manner. Getting used to the pace of the track, Mongia was content working the ball well into the gaps, chipping away efficiently. Using the angled bat to great effect, Mongia provided a superb display of common-sense cricket.

Earlier in the innings, however, Dravid (26) who was clean bowled Douglas Hondo, and Mohammad Kaif (5) failed to get going. India were in a spot of bother at 157/4 in the 31st over. There was a chance that the scoring rate would dip and pressure would build.

At this point in time, however, it seems difficult to put pressure on Yuvraj Singh. The young left-hander in sublime nick got going from the very first ball. Punching through the covers with great placement and timing, Yuvraj sent the ball scurrying across the turf to the fence. Punjab teammate Mongia enjoyed the fireworks, as the pressure to score quickly lifted.

Zimbabwe’s slow-medium bowlers struggled in the face of an all-out assault. Full tosses popped up with alarming regularity, and Yuvraj Singh nonchalantly clattered the ball into the stands. There was almost no need for innovation as powerful drives had just enough zip to beat fielders who were scattered, jaded, and mostly reduced to spectators.

The last 10 overs of the Indian innings provided the kind of power hitting that makes the shoulders of the opposition sag. A mammoth 121 runs came in that period, and came rather freely. Gary Brent, who replaced the injured Pommie Mbangwa, took the brunt of the punishment, returning figures of 9-0-74-0.

Yuvraj’s entertaining knock came to an end abruptly in the 49th over when he hit Dougie Marillier straight to Travis Friend at long on. Most captains, however, would be pleased with Yuvraj’s contribution – a sparkling 75 in just 52 balls with 6 fours and 3 sixes.

Mongia then set his sights firmly on a century and achieved the task with ease - and then some. Although it took Mongia 121 balls to reach three figures, with the help of 11 boundaries, the big batsman’s foot seemed to be glued to the accelerator thereafter.

Making room on the legside and slicing the ball through point with disdain, hitting back over the bowler’s head with power and placement, Mongia reached a mammoth 159 (147 balls, 17 fours, 1 six) as India amassed 333/6.

After a promising start that saw runs flow thick and fast, India were pegged back y a couple of wickets by a disciplined Zimbabwe team. With the ball hard when it was new, run-scoring seemed a cinch as Sourav Ganguly and Dinesh Mongia chipped and drove with gay abandon. The fall of the Indian skipper, however, broke the rhythm completely. Unable to regain the momentum, India reached 130/2 at the end of 25 overs.

Ganguly looked in ominous form when the game began. Coming down the wicket and hitting the ball cleanly over the infield, Ganguly took the bowlers on and won - repeatedly. But his penchant for fishing outside the off-stump caught up with him. Heath Streak was the beneficiary as Ganguly (28 runs, 31 balls, 4 fours) tickled one through to keeper Tatenda Taibu.

VVS Laxman, under some pressure to make some runs and stay in the reckoning for the tour of West Indies, was scratchy at the wicket. The Hyderabadi’s usually delightful touch eluded him as he poked and prodded outside the off-stump. A series of frustrating mis-hits had Laxman (16) taking off for a non-existent single. Andy Flower’s throw from cover found Laxman well short of his crease.

Mongia has a reputation for being an unfussy, calm and collected batsman. For a left-hander, his strokes are not the most elegant or exuberant. He shows little emotion when he’s on the job and goes about his business with the professional manner of a banker. The tall Punjab cricketer made full use of the lack of pace in the wicket, working the ball around for hard-run twos. When the loose ball was on offer, Mongia made sure he did not miss out.

With his no-nonsense approach, Mongia accumulated an invaluable 59 (69 balls, 8 fours) at the top of the order when the half-way mark of the innings was reached. Rahul Dravid (17 not out) was new to the wicket and looked to keep the strike ticking over.

With things perfectly level India and Zimbabwe went into the fifth and final one-dayer at the Nehru Stadium in the Eastern city of Guwahati. As you can expect, there was everything to play for. Zimbabwe are on the verge of a famous win – if they can pull it off while India have their hands full trying to force a home series win against a relatively lower ranked team.

The pitch, always important, looks a standard one-day wicket. Flat and hard, with a bit of grass rolled in, it looks the sort of surface that would encourage teams to bat first. When the coin landed ‘tails’ Sourav Ganguly had no hesitation in electing to bat. The fact that teams chasing have done well in this series thus far did not deter Ganguly.

Although unlike to break up significantly, the wicket will get lower and slower as the day progresses, bringing the spinners into play. Harbhajan Singh, who fancies a wicket with a bit of bounce is likely to be a force, backed up by the part time spinners India has. With this in mind India replaced left-arm spinner Murali Kartik with all-rounder Vijay Bharadwaj.

For Zimbabwe the strategy will be no different from previous games. On the field they will have to be tight with their line and length, miserly with runs and bat sensibly. The mediumpacers have done sterling service and will have a huge role to play. Unfortunately for skipper Stuart Carlisle, he is without the services of Mpumelelo Mbangwa, who injured his hamstring at practice. Gary Brent replaces Mbangwa.

The teams: India: D Mongia, *SC Ganguly, VVS Laxman, R Dravid, M Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, +A Ratra, AB Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, R Vijay Bharadwaj, Z Khan.

Zimbabwe: ADR Campbell, DD Ebrahim, TJ Friend, A Flower, GW Flower, *SV Carlisle, HH Streak, DA Marillier, +T Taibu, DT Hondo, GB Brent.

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Date-stamped : 19 Mar2002 - 22:32