1st Test: India v Zimbabwe at Nagpur, 21-25 Feb 2002
Anand Vasu and Santhosh S

Pre-game: Toss & Teams,
Zimbabwe 1st innings: Lunch - Day 1, Tea - Day 1, Stumps - Day 1,

There are times when a comedy of errors leads up to a tragedy so out of place that you are forced to stop whatever it is you’re doing and shake your head in dismay. Stuart Carlisle did much more than shake his head in dismay when he was dismissed for 77, 23 short of what would have been a well deserved maiden Test century. The skipper’s dismissal set Zimbabwe back, ending the day on 248/8.

The way Carlisle was batting, not taking any chances, it needed a run out to get him out. When Carlisle edged an offbreak from Harbhajan Singh, only for keeper Dasgupta to grass the catch, the batsmen should never have contemplated a single. Never run off a misfield they say. Perhaps in Zimbabwe they don’t have any old sayings about running off dropped catches. Before Carlisle could make the 22 yards to safety at the bowler’s end, Shiv Sunder Das had fired the ball across for the bowler to whip off the bails, saving his East Zone colleague the blushes. A captain’s knock of 77 (204 balls, 10 fours, 1 six) had come to an end.

Umpire Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan, thankfully Venkat for short, has earned the respect of more players, fans and scribes in the last few years than any man in a white coat. And yet, the trademark bent elbow sign that sends batsmen on their way seemed a bit rusty. Grant Flower (14) attempting to sweep Kumble played and missed, the ball popped up off the arm to the close-in fielder to catch.

Heath Streak, striking two handsome boundaries early on, looked more comfortable at the crease than many others that came before him. Certainly more so than the young and talented Tatenda Taibu. One shouldn’t be too hard on the diminutive stumper though, he wouldn’t have seen too many leggies back home fire in a skidder as quick as Kumble. Playing back to a straight one on the off, Taibu (1) had virtually written his own death certificate, and could only watch in horror as his offstump was pegged back.

Streak (24) after batting well hit the first ball Zaheer Khan bowled with the second new ball straight down Das’ throat at square leg.

Travis Friend provided some welcome entertainment, thrashing the ball around to all parts to reach 33 off just 31 balls with 6 hits to the fence.

Friend injected some humour, and that might bring a smile to the Zimbabwe camp, but it wont be enough to take the visitors to a comfortable score in this Test match.

The session between lunch and tea caused headline writers all around the sports fraternity to re-think what would have been the cast in stone cliches – ‘Flower blooms,’ ‘Andy blossoms,’ ‘Indian bowlers wilt,’ and similar horticultural lines were dashed by a searing inswinging yorker from Zaheer Khan. Andy Flower b Z Khan 3 (12 balls) was easily the event of the session – not Zimbabwe’s scoring 105 runs off 29 overs to reach 165/4.

Stuart Carlisle, living upto the new found responsibility of being captain, and he certainly isn’t alone in that respect in this Zimbabwean team, showed that he was not overawed by the reputation of India being tigers at home. Well, the Royal Bengal, is highly endangered and struggling to survive these days. Hitting tweaker Harbhajan Singh over long on for a six was only the icing on the cake – a wholesome, sumptuous one it was rather than the rich kind associated with batting flat wickets.

Carlisle, keen enough to stick around out in the middle, negotiated the swinging old ball with care. Zaheer Khan almost looked more deadly than with the old ball than new, but then again few Indian ‘quicks’ have dazzled with the new ball. Zaheer Khan in good rhythm, is a welcome sight to any Indian captain, and that was exactly what Ganguly had at his disposal.

After Kumble had prised out Campbell, there was little the spinners managed. Campbell, on 57 (98 balls, 9 fours) must have had visions of another century at Nagpur. After scoring a boundary and a brace, with the adrenaline running high Campbell slapped a cover drive to Laxman at short cover. The sharp catch was held and Zimbabwe had lost their second wicket.

Despite the loss of Andy Flower, thanks to a Zaheer Khan yorker in the 46th over, Carlisle battled on.

No such determine from Gavin Rennie (9) though. The left hander reacted late to a Javagal Srinath bouncer and gloved the ball through to substitute fielder Virender Sehwag.

Grant Flower (8 not out, 2 fours) and Carlisle (67 not out, 181 balls, 9 fours, 1 six) will return after tea to push forward. All things considered, India will be happy with their returns from the day so far.

There might be the expectable playful pre-match sparring in the press from Stuart Carlisle but out in the middle, it was forthright, deadly serious competition from the Zimbabwe captain and opening batsman. After winning the toss and electing to bat first, Carlisle saw off the barbs Sourav Ganguly sent down at him by way of his bowlers. Presenting the full face of a dour if unspectacular bat, Carlisle guided Zimbabwe to 60/1 at lunch on the first day’s play.

Zaheer Khan, fresh from his consecutive 10-wicket hauls in domestic cricket, generated good pace on a wicket that’s better suited to a game of clay court tennis than three seamers charging in and trying to snuff out defensive batsmen. Flat, dry and with cracks that threaten to open up and beckon to the tweakers from as early as the morning of the third day – this is a standard Nagpur wicket.

To his credit, the Baroda left-arm seamer made the best use of what little movement there was early on. Bowling from over the wicket to the right-handers, Zaheer Khan managed to get a good angle going away from the batsmen. Too good an angle for Trevor Gripper to make more than 5 runs. The opener tried at the last moment to take his bat out harm’s way of an away swinger and edged the ball thorough for Deep Dasgupta to take a good catch diving low to his right.

Alistair Campbell whose career has more comings and goings to the team than Test centuries, has fond memories of the Orange City. In his last outing here Campbell reached three figures. Putting the scare of Amit Mishra’s ‘Warnesque’ leg-break in the tour game out of his mind, Campbell (28 not out) settled into a good rhythm, stroking the ball away for runs.

Nasser Hussain, in England’s recent tour of India warned of ‘turgid cricket.’ Carlisle has said to the press that he wanted to ‘attack like the English.’ He means it. Despite a lot of people writing of Carlisle’s Zimbabwe, the batsman took his job very seriously indeed. Ok, so there were no flashing drives, no powerful horizontal bat shots. Spectators might be less than thrilled with this, but it did the visitors a world of good. Carlisle was unbeaten on 22 from a patient 94 balls.

Zimbabwe captain Stuart Carlisle had no hesitation at all in electing to bat first when he won the toss on a slow, characteristic Nagpur wicket. The first Test has begun well for Zimbabwe, with the toss going their way. Sourav Ganguly shrugged off toss result and will be happy to note the presence of an extra seamer - Sanjay Bangar in the team ahead of Virender Sehwag.

For Zimbabwe, Tatenda Taibu will keep wickets, leaving Andy Flower to concentrate on his batting. Opener Dion Ebrahim missed out on this clash.

India holds a better home record of having won two Tests and drawn one against Zimbabwe. The record at this ground however, is not inspiring, just the two Test matches out of six producing a result. In the very first Test match to be played here, in 1969 New Zealand beat India by 169 runs. Venkatraghavan picked up nine wickets in that Test match. India were undone by a brilliant spell of left-arm spin bowling (23-11-34-5) by Hedley John Howarth.

The other result came in the year 1986, India beating Sri Lanka by an innings and 106 runs. Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohinder Amarnath hit hundreds and the left-arm spin of Maninder Singh took care of the rest of the match, he picked up a ten-wicket-haul for the Test.

India and Zimbabwe played out a draw in November 2000 in a remarkable Test match. India had piled on a huge 609/6 decl, thanks to a brilliant double hundred (201) and tons from Dravid (162) and SS Das (110). Grant Flower hit a superb century to take Zimbabwe to 382 all out. Following on, Zimbabwe were taken to the safety of a draw by a remarkable knock of 232* by Andy Flower. Alistair Campbell too hit a century giving Flower good support.

Talking about Andy Flower's batting, he has such a good record in Test cricket, averaging 53.55 in making 4552 runs. He saves his best for India though, cracking three big hundreds in making 1035 runs at an amazing average of 129.37

The maximum temperature would be around the 33 celsius mark. It is clear blue skies here in Nagpur. It is the humidity, which is going to make it a bit difficult for the players - 87% This is an important series for many players. Most importantly for Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, they have to start scoring heavily. Both the players are under some pressure.

© CricInfo

Date-stamped : 22 Feb2002 - 06:34