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India make it to the final, but worries begin to surface
Rajesh Kumar - 24 June 2002

If you were to throw India, the West Indies and Zimbabwe together, who would you fancy to come out on top? That was the question that the first one-day tri-series in Zimbabwe took upon itself to answer. The end of the first three games of the tournament, then, saw some headway being made towards gleaning that answer.

It was definitely not the home team's week. Things began on a sour note for them when they were forced to come to terms with the loss of Andy Flower, whose dislocated right thumb ruled him out of the game for six weeks. The prolific batsman, up until that unfortunate moment, had never missed a Test or one-day international featuring Zimbabwe in the nine years since his debut.

Then came yet another hammer blow to the team's morale. Moments before the curtain-raiser, which pitted them against the West Indies, Heath Streak stepped down as captain to protest the selectors' policy of not giving him the team he wanted. Grant Flower was subsequently given responsibility of leading the side to victory, but the damage done by the double whammy proved too great for him to mend rapidly.

After being put in by the younger Flower, the West Indians turned in a clinical performance to claim a comfortable 27-run win. The result prevented the latest Zimbabwean captain from savouring the pleasure of having followed in the footsteps of his brother, who had led Zimbabwe in Tests and one-dayers previously. The Flower brothers, incidentally, had also become just the third pair of brothers - after Ian and Greg Chappell, and Jeff and Martin Crowe - to lead their respective sides in the international arena.

Grant's reign was to prove very fleeting; in the next one-dayer against India, Streak made a return after some furious behind-the- scenes diplomacy. But if the Zimbabwe Cricket Union thought that this would restore the composure of their badly ruffled team, they were sorely mistaken.

Playing at Harare, where they had been defeated in the final Test of a two-Test series, the Indians availed themselves the pleasure of inflicting on the Zimbabweans their heaviest one-day defeat on home soil.

On a pitch that offered early assistance to the seam bowlers, the tourists bundled out their opponents for 133. With Sachin Tendulkar (70*) and left-hander Hemang Badani (52*) in fine fettle, they then went on to make a mockery of the contest, winning with nine wickets and over 23 overs to spare.

The one worry was the continuing poor run of Sourav Ganguly. But three days later, the next match at Bulawayo saw the Indian skipper lay those ghosts to rest. With deputy Rahul Dravid for company, Ganguly guided his side to a four-wicket win over a Zimbabwean side that showed a few signs of recovering its moorings.

The win secured India's passage into the final, and it was an understandably relieved Ganguly who walked in for the post-match press-conference.

"It's a great relief to have scored runs and that too for a winning cause," the Indian skipper said. "All I had in mind when I walked out to bat was a prayer that the ball hit the middle of my bat. There had been too many edges in the preceding matches, and I was very, very determined that I play a decent knock today."

A more prosaic John Wright, however, chose the opportunity to read the danger signals associated with the win.

"We very nearly threw it away with some poor shots. We also gave away far too many runs in the field," he observed. In the context of India's notorious recent record in one-day finals, it was indeed a sobering thought for all fans of Indian cricket.

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