Zimbabwe play David to India's Goliath
Vikas Mohan - 07 March 2002
What an incredible game! It is truly hard to find words to
describe it, so shell-shocked is one. It would not be too much to
say that this match will go down as one of the greatest in the
annals of cricketing history. The quality of competitive cricket
on display was simply priceless.
The importance of the Nahar Singh stadium, Faridabad, to
contemporary cricket cannot be exaggerated. This is where, more
than two years ago, a match between India and South Africa shook
the foundations of an otherwise venerable sport. The match-fixing
scandal started here and, since then, has claimed many stars and
destroyed countless reputations.
Today, yet another Goliath was cut to size by a belligerent David
on this ground. What a pity that this game did not happen on a
weekend to enable many more to enjoy an unbridled exhibition of
quality cricket. "Total paisa vasool," as the saying goes in
popular Hindi, implying an excellent return on investment along
with a handsome bonus - such was this match between India and
The grand opera commenced as India won the toss and Sourav
Ganguly elected to bat first on a fair wicket - fair because the
strip had enough in it for both batsmen and bowlers who knew
their craft well. Ganguly opened, his accomplice at other end
being Dinesh Mongia. A surprise served up right away, because
frankly one was expecting Shiv Sunder Das to be in the middle;
logic dictates that, if one is chosen as a replacement for an
injured or rested opener ≠ in this case both Virender Sehwag and
Sachin Tendulkar - there is little point for that particular
player to warm benches and carry drinks.
But Mongia deserves due credit for his performance as Gangulyís
partner at the top. His positive attributes are an ability to
play a composed game and being clear on which ball to play and
which ball to leave alone. Another plus is that he does not get
rattled by short-pitched fast bowling. But this quality is yet to
be tested in foreign climes, and only after the forthcoming trips
to the West Indies and England can he press these credentials
with more authority.
Like Andrew Flintoff of England, Travis Friend has proven in the
recent past to be a hardy all-round customer for the Indians to
tackle. Today, however, his radar was way off the mark, and that
was reflected in his figures of 10-0-68-0. No Zimbabwe bowler, in
fact, looked impressive, especially in comparison to Zaheer
Khanís performance later in the afternoon.
Stroking the ball well, Ganguly compiled a fine fifty but then
undid the good work through sheer impatience. At one down, VVS
Laxman played a controlled and classical knock. His 75 off 99
balls was neatly paced and laid the foundations for a big total.
Arresting his instincts to attack, Laxman hit only five exquisite
boundaries and made the bulk of his runs through singles and
couples. Todayís elegant knock will allow Laxman to regain his
confidence and let go of any self-doubt that he may have.
Mohammad Kaif deserves some mention for his thoughtless game that
Laxmanís downfall in the form of a run out. A talented cricketer,
Kaif has his strengths - swift running between the wickets and an
ability to graft innings, much in the mould of Rahul Dravid.
However, his ability to communicate with his partners leaves much
to be desired. Recently, against Sri Lanka, Kaif showed some
pettiness in not letting his captain score the winning runs,
which Ganguly rightly deserved to do. At Faridabad, Laxman was
the one who suffered. Such carelessness will not endear Kaif to
his colleagues, some of whom are more senior and worthy than him.
Ganguly and John Wright ought to take careful note of his
Dravid, Sanjay Bangar and Ajay Ratra came and went without
bothering the scorers much. Thankfully Ajit Agarkar, with Kaifís
assistance, played a brutish and exciting cameo, scoring 40 off
19 deliveries. Frankly, Agarkar excruciates Indian cricket
lovers, for ever since his appearance on the international scene,
his career has been marked by extreme highs and lows, so it is
hard to tell whether his knock should be construed as the end or
start of a high. It is baffling that an international cricketer
who promises much in one series then delivers little in the next.
Like some Indian players, Alistair Cambell is an unpredictable
batsman. Fortunately he summoned up his concentration and came up
with an excellently paced innings before falling lbw to Zaheer
Khan for 84. Zaheer was at his very best, and before Andy Flower
(71 off 72 balls) steadied the Zimbabwe innings with Campbell,
there was much mayhem caused by his accurate fast bowling.
Andy Flower continues to be a thorn in the Indian flesh, much as
he was during his last trip to India in 2000. As long as he was
at crease, every bowler apart from Zaheer was feeling the heat,
until a regular delivery from Anil Kumble undid him. With the two
experienced southpaws back in the pavilion, Zimbabwe was facing
certain defeat. Captain Stuart Carlisle, Grant Flower, Heath
Streak and wicket-keeper Tatenda Taibu could not do much for
their teamís cause. But after Douglas Marillier strode out to the
middle, every theory about Zimbabwe's odds appeared misconceived.
To be honest, until Merillier arrived at the crease, Gangulyís
captaincy was flawless. He had shuffled his bowlers well, with
the possible exception of an expensive Kumble. But Marillier was
a guest with a different mindset; he wanted to win an otherwise
lost game. He smashed 20 runs from Zaheer Khanís ninth over and
in the process wrecked his otherwise sublime statistics. A useful
bits-and-pieces player, Marillier also ensured that Zaheer would
not get an otherwise well-deserved Man of the Match award.
Innovative and confident are the words that one can apply to
Marillierís batting. His display, much to the chagrin of the
Indians, left them desperately searching for quick ideas. The
shock that his explosive batting effected on the Indians was
reflected in the dazed looks of Ganguly and his bowlers,
expressions that they are bound to carry for the rest of this
By smashing 56 off 24 balls, Marillier snatched a comprehensive
victory from India and redeemed the lost pride of his team and
his nation. I doubt that India will be able to do much in the
next match, for it requires enormous reserves of emotional
strength and intelligence to recover from such an unexpected
defeat. Oneís heart goes out to Ganguly and his men, but at the
same time, one cannot be happy enough for written-off underdogs
like Zimbabwe. Their performance has duly restored cricketís
pride, lost at Faridabad not so long ago, and even elevated it a
few notches upwards.
In parting, Zimbabwe and New Zealand are the two teams that
manage their limited resources much better than anyone else. What
they lack in talent, they make up with their attitude and guts,
and this quality ensures a positive and spirited display on the
field regardless of their opponentsí stature.
From the last World Cup onwards, these two sides have become giant-killers. India
would do well to learn some lessons from this outing for the
upcoming World Cup, for, even though we look strong enough on
paper, in practice we turn out to be much too brackish.
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