Zimbabwe in India, Feb-Mar 2002
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India won by 101 runs
India 333/6 (50 ov)
Zimbabwe 232 (42.1/48 ov)

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The writer in you

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 Zimbabwe.

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 behavior.

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 series.

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.

The views expressed above are solely those of the guest contributor and are carried as written, with only minor editing for grammar, to preserve the original voice. These contributed columns are solely personal opinion pieces and reflect only the feelings of the guest contributor. Their being published on does not amount to an endorsement by CricInfo's editorial staff of the opinions expressed.
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