A show of resolve

The match was dominated by the Indians. From the time Tendulkar and Sehwag gave a blistering start, it was clear that Zimbabwe would face a tough task.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Sachin Tendulkar, who top-scored for India with 81, pulls Heath Streak to the fence.-— Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

SECURITY was the biggest concern for people coming to Harare. The focus was more on the politics of cricket than the World Cup, as Zimbabwe battled to get the priorities right on all fronts. The Indians moved in with concern on the cricket front. The defeat against Australia had cast a gloom in the dressing room and the disappointment was widespread as Sourav Ganguly tried to boost the morale of the team.

The debate on the eve of the match centered around the batting order. The team management was keen on Sachin Tendulkar pairing with Virender Sehwag, breaking the established association of Tendulkar and Ganguly. There was obvious resistance from the skipper but in the interest of the team, Ganguly conceded to bat at number four.

With the batting order now settled, the focus shifted to the self-belief of the players and here coach John Wright stepped in to make the team realise their duty towards their fans, and to the game as such. Wright cracked the whip, gave an ultimatum to the players to pull up their socks and everything fell in place from the time the first ball was bowled.

The decision to demote Ganguly in the batting order was taken with the hope that Tendulkar and Sehwag would utilise the first 15 overs. "I thought they batted very well,'' praised Ganguly.

Tendulkar was the soul of India's revival, if one could say so. Once again the man was willing to take over the responsibility of playing the role of a guide. He took the first step a day before the match when he appealed to the Indian public to show patience and faith in the team. The incidents of stone throwing at the residences of some the players had left the team shattered and Tendulkar's gesture was to help the players to look ahead with optimism.

In making that appeal, Tendulkar was also taking the responsibility on his shoulders. He had made a promise to the fans that the team would fight till the last ball was bowled and in the process he ensured that he set an example with an innings of immense character. It may not have been a memorable knock for Tendulkar, but it meant so much for the team. It was an innings that said so much about Tendulkar the batsman and Tendulkar the team man.

The Harare Sports Club was decked up for the match. The locals turned up to encourage the game and it did not really matter that Zimbabwe lost. The idea was to entertain themselves and convey to the world that everything was in place in their country. "It's a victory for all of us,'' remarked a fan even as he accepted that India was a far superior team on that day.

Against the backdrop of such insecurity in the team, Tendulkar produced an ideal innings. The kind one would associate with match-winners. The two-paced pitch was a challenge, but Tendulkar was prepared. So was Sehwag.

The match was dominated by the Indians. From the time Tendulkar and Sehwag gave a blistering start, it was clear that Zimbabwe would face a tough task. The home team lacked the will to fight and it was shocking the way in which veteran Andy Flower batted.

Heath Streak may have defended Andy Flower at the end of the match, but one could notice the disinterest in the latter's approach. He came close to being run out on three occasions and then he just had no clue to a ball from Harbhajan Singh that curled behind his legs and hit the stumps. It may not have been the defining moment of the match but it reflected the difference between the teams. Streak did not have one batsman who could stand up to the Indian attack. "Nobody tried to dominate the Indian bowlers,'' said Streak. "I thought we bowled well enough, especially to Andy (Flower)'' said Ganguly.

As Ganguly pointed out, it was some splendid bowling that left Zimbabwe with little chance of putting up a fight. Tendulkar laid the base with his valuable innings, which ended to a fine ball. Left-arm spinner Grant Flower would cherish the ball that spun and squared up a well-set Tendulkar to take the off bail. It was a sensational ball.

Later, when Zimbabwe entertained hopes of a close finish, veteran Javagal Srinath took over the stage. He brought in his experience and experimented with his line to produce a splendid spell. After long, one saw Srinath going flat out. Obviously, the whip that Wright cracked had worked well, because Srinath was motivated right through.

The Indians had looked tense at the start of the match and understandably so. The lack of confidence seemed infectious until Tendulkar changed the mood. As for the rest, there was enough for Rahul Dravid to remember. His was a sweet effort with some sensible batsmanship in the company of Mohammad Kaif. Their partnership proved vital as it put the issue beyond Zimbabwe.

There were efforts to get Ganguly' comment on the issue involving England's refusal to travel to Harare, but the skipper cleverly brushed aside the attempt. "We never had any problems playing in Zimbabwe,'' he dismissed the question at the end of the match.

The smooth conduct of the match was one of the high points of the tournament. So much had been said and written about the possibility of forces likely to disrupt the match that at one point even the Indians had developed fears of travelling to Zimbabwe.

The Indians could not have thought of forfeiting the match at any cost and the victory went a long way in putting the team on the right track. When someone asked Ganguly about the football-like huddle at the fall of each wicket, he described it as a team thing. "It's a reminder for all of us to fight,'' said Ganguly. The team backed itself well to get its act right at the appropriate time. Zimbabwe was never in a position to cause any concern to the Indians.

The scores:

India: V. Sehwag c Taibu b Whittall 36; S. Tendulkar b G.Flower 81; D. Mongia c Hondo b G. Flower 12; S. Ganguly c Streak b Blignaut 24; R. Dravid (not out) 43; Yuvraj Singh c Taibu b Murphy 1; M. Kaif lbw b Hondo 25; Harbhajan Singh c Murphy b Streak 3; Zaheer Khan (not out) 13; Extras: (b-4, lb-4, w-9) 17; Total (for seven wickets in 50 overs) 255.

Fall of wickets: 1-99, 2-142, 3-142, 4-182, 5-184, 6-227, 7-234.

Zimbabwe bowling: Streak 9-0-46-1, Blignaut 10-0-54-1, Hondo 9-1-56-1, Whittall 6-0-37-1, G. Flower 6-0-14-2, Murphy 10-0-40-1.

Zimbabwe: C. Wishart b Srinath 12; M. Vermuelen c Dravid b Srinath 0; A. Flower b Harbhajan 22; G. Flower c Harbhajan b Ganguly 23; D. Ebrahim c Nehra b Ganguly 19; A. Blignaut c Mongia b Ganguly 2; T. Taibu (not out) 29; G. Whittall c Zaheer b Sehwag 28; H. Streak c Kaif b Harbhajan 20; B. Murphy b Zaheer 2; D. Hondo b Zaheer 2; Extras (b-4, lb-2, w-5, nb-2) 13. Total (in 44.4 overs) 172.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-23, 3-48, 4-83, 5-83, 6-87, 7-124, 8-160, 9-165.

India bowling: Srinath 8-1-14-2, Zaheer Khan 7.4-0-23-2, Nehra 7-0-35-0, Harbhajan Singh 10-0-42-2, Ganguly 5-1-22-3, Sehwag 3-0-14-1, Mongia 4-0-16-0.