"Criticism motivates me"

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

The triumphant Indian team.-V. V. KRISHNAN

IF there was one moment which captured the evenly matched nature of the two teams, in the particular context of the second Test, it was when the Indian camp had to summon the injured Virender Sehwag, asking him to be ready, just in case, on the final day. It was a situation in which India could not afford to spare a single batsman even if the target was as modest as 122.

India won the Test in keeping with the pre-match expectations. But, in the process, the team exposed some of its weak areas. What stood out most glaringly was the fact that this Indian team was unsure of itself even in favourable conditions.

Harbhajan Singh sneaks one through the defence of Travis Friend. Man of the Match Harbhajan took six wickets in the second innings.-V. V. KRISHNAN

There is no point in the Indians trying to seek refuge behind some umpiring errors by Asoka de Silva because the Zimbabweans too suffered on a couple of occasions. Such incidents do get evened out, but India did not really distinguish itself by the manner in which it struggled to get to the winning target.

The star-studded Indian batting line-up looked so brittle against a left-arm spinner. Given the composition of the Zimbabwean attack, it should have been an easy task for India, but there was a touch of complacency in the approach and it almost cost the team the match. The winning runs for India came only after a struggle, and thanks are due mainly to a cameo by Harbhajan Singh, the 'Man of the Match.'

Anil Kumble, who bagged seven wickets in the match, traps Tatenda Taibu leg before in the first innings.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The discussion revolved around the nature of the pitch, which was low and slow. It was not an ideal surface for a Test because much depended on the toss. Had India batted first, it might have inflicted an innings defeat again on Zimbabwe. On the other hand, the Zimbabweans did not have the spin fire to exploit the conditions even though Raymond Price gave a wonderful account of his skills. If only he had had adequate support from the other end the Zimbabweans might have pulled off a win.

Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly spoke of wanting to win overseas, but here the situation was alarming even in home conditions.

Sourav Ganguly scored a hundred - his first as a captain - after a long while. Here he punishes Grant Flower.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The threat of India losing was real. It was first hauled out of trouble by a century from Ganguly, his first as a captain, and then on the final morning, a pre-determined attack by Sachin Tendulkar came in very handy. Of course there was this sensational spell by Harbhajan, but then Zimbabwe matched India in every department and almost levelled the series.

"A good learning experience for some," said the visiting skipper Stuart Carlisle. It indeed was. But the contest once again highlighted Zimbabwe's dependence on Andy Flower. When the left-hander came good in the first innings, the team managed to post a decent total but when Andy fell cheaply in the second innings the Zimbabwean batting came apart.

Raymond Price got Sachin Tendulkar twice in the match. Here the Indian champion bat succumbs in the second innings.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Ganguly tried to defend the Indian collapse on the last day when three wickets fell in a heap and Zimbabwe sensed a victory. "It was no crisis," he said, point out the fact that the team had received a couple of rough decisions and was also handicapped by the absence of Sehwag from the batting line-up. It was a weak defence indeed because there were clear signs of panic in the Indian dressing room.

Coach John Wright held similar views and spared the team a lashing. "The gain of the series was that we won two Tests despite losing the toss," he said. That spoke for the standard of the pitches prepared for the Tests and also of the strength of the Indian team.

What if the Zimbabweans had another 50 runs in the kitty? Coach Geoff Marsh was right when he noted that the story of the Test would have been different had Zimbabwe scored another 50 runs. But he was gracious enough to admit that the hefty strikes by Tendulkar on the final morning took the match away. "He's such a classy player that we couldn't really plot against him," said Marsh. He also made a valid point that Zimbabwe had just one quality spinner and that was a handicap, especially considering the state of the pitch. The surface may not have deteriorated as much as it was expected to, but Zimbabwe would definitely have gained had there been one more spinner to support Price.

V. V. KRISHNAN

The Indians fumbled in the first innings when they failed to establish a big lead. It was important since there were apprehensions that the pitch might crumble on the last day. A century by Ganguly was a welcome development for the team. The team was happy to see the skipper emerge from his slump with a classy knock and the timing was a plus point since it gave the Indian innings the right direction.

Ganguly's return to form was not an easy journey. He decided to push himself up in the batting order and thanked Rahul Dravid for agreeing to allow him to bat at number three. "It was a splendid gesture by Rahul because he has done so well at that position," said Ganguly.

The skipper's knock was one big gain for India from the series. "Good it came before the tour to the West Indies," said Ganguly, who was delighted that he contributed to an Indian victory. "There's nothing like a victory even if you perform well individually. For me this win shall remain special because it helped me get some runs," said Ganguly. His individual success saw the team celebrate.

Andy Flower (above) and Dion Ebrahim (right) were unlucky to get out in the 90s. They forged a century partnership in the first innings.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Zimbabwe relied heavily on its experienced players, but the team was let down by Alistair Campbell, who failed miserably. Andy Flower came good in the first innings at his favourite ground, but a superb delivery from Harbhajan accounted for the classy left-hander in the second knock. "It was a special wicket because Andy is such a wonderful player of spin," said Harbhajan, who finished with six wickets in the second innings.

The four-wicket victory gave the Indians a 2-0 sweep of the Tests. It was a result which may not have surprised many, but the way the matches progressed did show some weak areas in the Indian camp. "It was good to win the series, but we have to perform well overseas," admitted Ganguly, a point Wright also made when analysing the triumphs at home.

The scores: Zimbabwe 329 (A. Flower 92, D. Ebrahin 94, G. Flower 30, T. Friend 43, Kumble 3-88) and 146 (S. Carlisle 37, G. Flower 49, Kumble 4-58, Harbhajan 6-62) lost to India 354 (S. Ganguly 136, S. Tendulkar 36, V. Sehwag 74, A. Kumble 34 n.o., Streak 4-92, Price 3-108) and 126-6 (Das 31, Tendulkar 42).

A CRISIS brings the best out of this young man and he is at his best when bowling in the company of Anil Kumble. The pair of Kumble and Harbhajan Singh set up the Indian victory at Kotla and the off-spinner was rightly adjudged the 'Man of the Match' for his priceless contribution in the second Test.

On the fourth day, as he met the press following his six-wicket strike in Zimbabwe's second innings, Harbhajan gave a lot of credit to Kumble. "His very presence is so motivating for me. Actually he creates the pressure and I get the wickets. I cherish the moments when Anilbhai bowls at the other end and makes things easier for me. He's such a great and crafty bowler and it is always an education to play along with him," said Harbhajan.

At the end of that conference, Harbhajan was asked if India was well placed to win the match, still 86 runs short of the target. "We have a good batting line up... Sachin, Rahul, Das... and then I am there too," he said in good humour. As it happened, Harbhajan had to chip in with the bat too and he ended the contest with a grand straight six off Heath Streak.

"I never thought it would come to such a stage where I could be required to get the winning runs. Of course, it was such a heady feeling to be in the middle when we eventually got to the target and I'm so happy that we won," remarked Harbhajan, underplaying his brilliant spell which paved the way for the victory.

With Kumble collecting four wickets and Harbhajan six, the Indians managed to keep the target short. "There was no great bounce or spin in the track and we had to work hard for the wickets," said Harbhajan, whose most prized scalp was that of Andy Flower.

"It is always inspiring when you get a big batsman out and Andy is a classy batsman. His wicket was important because he is capable of taking the match away singlehandedly and that is why I cherish his wicket always," said Harbhajan, who had come in for punishment during his past meetings with Andy.

Experts felt Harbhajan was a lot quicker than he normally is but it hardly mattered as long as he got his wickets. "Criticism motivates me," maintained Harbhajan, whose strong point is his rhythm. Like most bowlers, he needs an early wicket to get into his rhythm and the Zimbabweans discovered how difficult it was to face Harbhajan when the bowler had tasted early success.

The Man of the Match award was a fitting recognition of Harbhajan's excellence with the ball. "I always aim to bowl well. The wickets follow, but what matters is how well you bowl," said the modest Harbhajan, who wanted to share the limelight with Kumble.

The success at Kotla should be the right motivation for Harbhajan to look at the season ahead with high hopes. "I want to do well overseas," he said of his resolve. One would wish him well.