Published : Jun 23, 2001 00:00 IST


IT was a rare feeling. Too much has indeed been made of a Test win outside the subcontinent, but then all these years the same team was hounded by the critics for not even winning in Zimbabwe. So, when the same team won in Zimbabwe, there was reason for it to get together and there was reason for the players to celebrate.

"It's important," said Rahul Dravid. "It's important we celebrate our successes whenever we get the opportunity to do so."

He was right to a large extent. For 15 years, the team traversed the cricket world but won just two Test matches, both in the sub-continent. One against Sri Lanka at Colombo in 1993 and the other against Bangladesh at Dhaka in 2000. Victories, yes, but not the kind you remember fondly.

Even this win was not the kind which would have set the Zambezi on fire. It came against a side which was considerably depleted in the bowling department, and which chronically lacked the temperament to play Test cricket. How else would you explain the indisciplined batting on the first day of the match? Zimbabwe, strictly speaking, lost the Test match that day.

Dave Houghton used to feel miserable when his team was described as just another squad and not really worthy of Test status. Too many resounding defeats had hampered Zimbabwe's efforts to progress as a Test team and as a team which deserved a place in the family of Test playing nations. It took time for Zimbabwe to make a mark even though just five victories in its nine-year Test history may not be the best advertisement for its potential. The team has lost far too many matches which it should not have lost.

The loss in four days against India at the pretty venue in Bulawayo was not a surprise. The Zimbabweans had expected the track at the Queen's Sports Club to be their ally. It was nice and flat, but then their batting stumbled against an attack which could not have been said as being hostile at any point.

It was a poor performance by Zimbabwe and the Indians very nearly wasted the opportunity to build on the advantage. It was a typical response from the Indians with the openers failing to give a solid start and the middle order not able to keep the bowlers at bay.

"I know we should've batted better but then we did recover to win the match," said Ganguly. He acknowledged the fact that the top-order batsmen had thrown the advantage away and it was only some wonderful batting by Harbhajan Singh and Sameer Dighe that saw the team through.

"If you ask me, it's a great feeling to have won away from home. It required almost everyone to dig in but then that's what team effort is all about. We all were confident and I'm glad this time we didn't let the opportunity go by," said Ganguly, remembering all those occasions when India came close to winning in the West Indies, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Shiv Sundar Das earned praise from all quarters for his batting in this match. The hundred in the preceding match had been a good warm-up for this Oriya and he conceded, "I was a little nervous but I'm glad I could manage to keep my composure."

It had been a long journey and the Indian team had made a lot of efforts to realise its resolve to win overseas. The bowlers may not have been at their best on the first morning, but the Zimbabweans were too obliging.

"It's difficult for any team to come back into the match after a first innings collapse. It cost us the match. We didn't bat well in the first innings and gave away wickets cheaply. We should have applied ourselves better," said Zimbabwe skipper Heath Streak after India won the contest by eight wickets.

Ganguly was balanced in his assessment. "We're happy but then we ought to have batted better in the first innings. The best part of our win was the fielding. We've been working hard on this aspect and the Bangalore camp was the starting point for us. The difference is there to see," he said.

"Keep your feet on the ground," warned Dravid. He had passed the word around and was rightly guarded in reacting to the win. "It's a nice feeling but we've to realise that this is just the beginning. The challenges are not over and will come in Sri Lanka and South Africa. We're looking ahead and we're not getting carried away by this victory,"he said.

But Dravid had a point to make. "It'll be nice to project this victory well. After all we all had to work hard for it. I'm sure this win will have a lot of impact on young kids back home. It certainly can be an inspiration."

It was a pity that the Test had such a poor response from the people of Bulawayo. The crowd was made up mostly of schoolkids who had great fun. But not their team where Andy Flower alone stood up to fight in the first innings. He came up with a neat innings in the second knock too and helped Zimbabwe put up a respectable challenge. This time, Andy was assisted by brother Grant and Stuart Carlisle but then the effort was not enough to make any impact on the contest. The target for India was hardly testing.

The talking point of the match, apart from Das' progress as a Test opener, was the disqualification of Ashish Nehra for running on the danger area. "It was hard on Ashish," said Ganguly while coach John Wright admitted that the monitoring of Nehra and Zaheer Khan's follow through should have been tighter. At one point, both Nehra and Zaheer were on two warnings each before the Delhi seamer was forced to be taken off.

It was a shattering experience for Nehra. He had looked the best bowler among the Indians and contributed immensely by removing Andy Flower in both the innings.

A feature of the Indian victory, as Ganguly rightly pointed out, was the splendid catching by Ramesh, Das, Laxman and Dravid. "The fielding was a strong point," said Ganguly.

Harbhajan's knock came in for praise from the skipper. "I was enjoying my batting. In fact, I was confident of getting a hundred," said Harbhajan of his brilliant knock.

It was a very calculated assault by Harbhajan and he was assisted well by Dighe, who batted most positively. "We kept talking to each other," said Dighe, who was also involved with Harbhajan in carving a win against Australia at Chennai.

The overall standard of the match never really rose above mediocrity. The empty stands and some average fare in the middle were poor advertisements for Test cricket indeed.

Brief scores: Zimbabwe 173 (A.Flower 51, Nehra 3-23) and 328 (S.Carlisle 52, A.Flower 83, G.Flower 71, Srinath 3-71) lost to India 318 (S.Tendulkar 74, H.Singh 66, Streak 3-63, Watambwa 3-94) and 184 for 2 (Das 82 n.o.).

HIS infectious smile is what pleases his mates. But not the bowlers, for Shiv Sundar Das is a compact batsman, who knows the importance of making his wicket a precious commodity.

In carving an unbeaten 82 and shaping an easy win for India, Das took a giant stride in forging a place for himself in the team. "He's a quality player," said a beaming Sourav Ganguly. The skipper has played a big role in guiding Das from the time he made his debut last year.

Das is the product of a hard grind, a product of six years of training. His sincere pursuit to open the innings for India was built on the sound belief that he had the potential to make it. When the opportunity came, he grabbed it.

Aware that he had a role to play, Das concentrated hard. In the first innings he was unfortunate when ruled caught at silly point, the ball coming off the pads. In the second innings, Das was lucky when he nicked the ball down the legside and was ruled not out.

It was Das' crucial opening partnership with Sadagopan Ramesh which saw India make it quite comfortably. "We had planned it this way. There was no question of any panic because the pitch had eased out considerably," said Das, who won the 'Man of the Match' honours for his knock in the second innings.

Das built his innings well on the fourth day. He took care that he did not fall into the trap of the Zimbabweans when he was tested with short balls. "Sachin (Tendulkar) kept telling me to concentrate on my game and not to worry about scoring runs. He wanted me to remember not to get out," Das added.

An important aspect of Das' knock was the manner in which he paced his innings. There was a touch of class as Das let quite a few deliveries pass. It was a vital lesson he had learnt from Gavaskar. And then he pounced on the loose deliveries to keep the score moving. This was a lesson he had learnt from Tendulkar.

"He has good defence," remarked Tendulkar as Das dominated the attack. Having played a lot on matting wickets, Das has developed a very strong backfoot play. And it came in handy here as he produced some classy shots square of the wicket.

The intensity with which Das treats his job speaks of the man's passion for the game. An opener cast in the mould of Gavaskar, blunting the attack and gradually dominating it, Das promises to go far. The innings at Queen's Sports Club was a pleasant start in that direction.


INDIA'S left-arm pace bowler Ashish Nehra has got into the record books for becoming only the second bowler in Test history to be banned from bowling for running on the wicket. This happened on the third day of the Bulawayo Test match during Zimbabwe's second innings, on June 9, 2001.

Nehra, at that stage, was bowling his 27th over. Australia's ICC umpire Daryl Harper handed over the bowler his cap and sweater in the 95th over of Zimbabwe's innings with the score reading 275-7, thereby signalling that Nehra couldn't bowl again in the match! Nehra, was in fact warned twice before in the innings by the local umpire Russell Tiffin.

The Laws of Cricket on Unfair play (sections 42.11 and 42.12) make it clear that the umpires shall intervene and prevent players from causing damage to the pitch which may assist the bowlers of either side. Interestingly, prior to 1947, there have been several instances of players damaging the pitch but the Law then did not make any provision for the bowlers to be banned from bowling any further in the match, although the umpires could warn the bowlers to stop doing so. It was only as per the 1947 MCC code that the umpires were empowered to remove a batsman or bowler from the field of play if they were found guilty of pitch tampering.

Test cricket has provided many instances of pitch tampering by both batsmen and bowlers. In fact, just prior to the commencement of the third Sydney Test match in January 1883, Australian captain Billy Murdoch protested to his English counterpart Ivo Bligh about the spikes in left-arm pace bowler Dick Barlow's boots, which had caused extreme damage to the wickets in the previous two Test matches at Melbourne. According to the Sydney Morning Herald - "Mr. Bligh, with great courtesy, had the offending plates removed". The matter was settled amicably.

Then, during the 1928-29 season, the touring MCC team had complained to the umpires that Australian fast bowler Harry Bull Alexander, then playing for Victoria at Melbourne, was causing damage to the wicket by scratching the turf with his boots while delivering the ball. However, he was allowed to continue after being warned by the umpires.

Since the change in Law in 1947, the first recorded instance came at the Cambridge ground in 1965. In a match between the touring New Zealanders and the Cambridge University, Mark Whitaker, a 19-year-old freshman, was cautioned after lunch on the third day by umpire W. E. Phillipson for running down the middle of the pitch after delivery. Later, after advising the Cambridge captain, the umpires Phillipson and J. S. Buller decided to ban the young bowler from bowling for the remainder of the innings, although he was allowed to complete his 27th over. The Wisden had then noted, "This was the first instance in English cricket of an umpire taking such action".

Likewise, in November 1965, at the Sydney Cricket Ground, MCC's left-arm pace bowler Ian Jones was warned by both umpires in the first innings against New South Wales for following through down the wicket and was finally banned by umpire R. F. Burgess in the second innings. He was not allowed to complete his fourth over.

During the 1969-70 season, a Queensland aboriginal fast bowler, I. H. King, was not allowed to complete his 14th over, after he had been issued two warnings for running on to the wicket by umpire K. T. Killey, in a Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

A season later in South Africa, Transvaal's pace bowler G. L. G. Watson, while playing against Eastern Province at Johannesburg, was banned from completing his 16th over after a third warning (one more than the required legal warnings).

The only such instance before Nehra, in a Test match, came when New Zealand fast bowler Dick Motz was not allowed to bowl against India at Christchurch in February 1968, after bowling just one over with the second new ball, at the order of the umpires F. R. Goodall and R. W. R. Shortt, for running on to the wicket. Motz by then had bowled 14 overs, after taking six wickets for 63 runs in 21 overs in the first innings.

A part-time bowler, who was almost asked not to bowl again in a Test match was India's Sunil Gavaskar. While opening the Indian bowling in the second innings against England at the Wankhede Stadium in February 1977, Gavaskar was on the verge of being banned for running down the wicket after Dennis Amiss, the batsman, protested to the umpires. Indian captain Bishan Bedi had then no other option but to remove Gavaskar from the attack. He had bowled just one over - a maiden! Not bad for a part-time bowler, whose job was just to remove the shine from the new ball.

Normally, it is the faster bowlers who are involved in such acts. However, Pakistani captain and leg-spinner Intikhab Alam, while bowling against Queensland at Brisbane in December 1972 was ordered out of the attack by umpire P. R. Enright for following through down the wicket. He had been warned earlier by umpire L. Johnson. It was a rather surprising decision by the umpires, for Intikhab, later a Pakistan cricket coach, was never in his entire first-class career, spanning nearly 20 years, been warned, let alone banned for damaging the wicket.

In November 1976, though for a different reason, Pakistani fast bowler Imran Khan was banned from bowling, after sending down too many short-pitched balls to the New Zealand batsmen in the Karachi Test match. In this case however, M/s. Shujauddin and Shakoor Rana, the umpires, evoked Law 42.8 - deliberate bowling of high full pitched balls.

There have been several such instances recorded in recent times in England and Australia, although not many such cases have been reported in matches in the sub-continent. However, in February 1998, a Ranji Trophy Super League match was abandoned with 27 minutes remaining on the third and penultimate day at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium at Chennai, when the Delhi batsmen refused to play on after they alleged that the Tamil Nadu fielders had dug up the pitch with their boots. Later, both the teams were banned by the BCCI from playing further matches during the season, while one of the main accused in the controversy, Tamil Nadu wicket-keeper Reuben Paul, was banned from playing first-class cricket for a year.

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