Too good for the Zimbabweans

G. VISWANATH

INDIA beat Zimbabwe fair and square in the first Test at Nagpur. The win by an innings and 101 runs was a morale-booster for the beleaguered Sourav Ganguly's team, which had a tough series at home against England. The call to sack Ganguly as batsman and captain was rather muted. The selectors said Ganguly's form with the bat was not alarming, to keep him out of the side. They also said he was not badly off as a captain.

VIVEK BENDRE

VIVEK BENDRE

Shiv Sundar Das square drives Grant Flower. Das came up with a century in India's only innings. Sachin Tendulkar drives Grant Flower during his knock of 176. The batting maestro played a cautious innings.

It was up to Ganguly to show that he has not lost his touch with the bat. He appeared a confident man and was raring to go. He was not a hit with the bat at the Orange City. He made 38. On the captaincy count, he was made to look good by the team's overall performance. He earned some brownie points, nevertheless. India did not have to put up a tremendous performance to outclass Zimbabwe. Some of its trusted batsmen in Shiv Sundar Das (105), Sachin Tendulkar (176) and Rahul Dravid (65) scored heavily and Sanjay Bangar (100 not out) came up with a telling performance in the lower order. Their combined effort put India on top with a mammoth total of 570. Left-arm Zaheer Khan bowled with fire and his yorker length deliveries made batsmen's stay at the wicket miserable. Zimbabwe's prolific scorer Andrew Flower fall victim to Zaheer in the first innings. When the quick bowlers - Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan - made way for the spinners, Anil Kumble was quite menacing. The leg spinner was very effective in the second innings. Batsmen had no clue on a demon of a pitch in the first session of the fifth day. Six batsmen went down for 30-odd runs in 75 minutes of play. Harbhajan Singh came into his own on the last day. This spell ensured his place for the second Test.

VIVEK BENDRE

VIVEK BENDRE

Sanjay Bangar punishes Grant Flower. It was a rollicking hundred from the Railway player. Anil Kumble celebrates after taking the wicket of Alistair Campbell in Zimbabwe's second innings. Kumble had a match haul of nine wickets.

After the first day's proceedings, when India took eight wickets after Ganguly lost the toss, the Test was thoroughly dominated by the home team. Captain Stuart Carlisle (77, 10 x 4, 1 x 6) and Campbell (57, 9 x 4) forged a good partnership of 106 runs. It was good as long it lasted. Kumble separated the pair when he had the left-hander Campbell, who went for a drive and offered a catch to Venkatsai Laxman at covers. Carlisle batted with responsibility for nearly four and a half hours. He set a fine example. He also crossed 1,000 runs in Tests. He said he was disappointed for not getting his first Test century. His exit was entirely due to Das' effort. Then Travis Friend made a good unbeaten 60, exhibiting his wide range of strokes.

VIVEK BENDRE

VIVEK BENDRE

Harbhajan, holding a souvenir, enjoyed his spell in Zimbabwe's second essay. Zaheer Khan exults after trapping Stuart Carlisle leg before. Khan picked up four wickets in the match.

From the second day, the Indians went on a leather hunt, though the first century maker Das had a size of luck. When he was on four, he edged one between the rookie wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu and Andrew Flower. After that he never looked back and came up with his second Test century. Das and Deep Dasgupta added 79, and then Das had a good partnership with Dravid.

Tendulkar said the slow nature of the pitch, which had low bounce, made the batting difficult, especially when he was driving in front of the wicket. This dissuaded him from lifting the ball. It was a typical Tendulkar effort, mixing caution with aggression. He scored his 28th century in 90 Tests. He is now only behind Sunil Gavaskar (34 centuries) and Sir Don Bradman (29 centuries). Tendulkar and Ganguly were involved in a stand of 97 for the fourth wicket after which Bangar played a gripping and attractive innings. His 100 (182 mts, 155b, 12 x 4, 2 x 6) showed his calibre. His effort, this was only his second innings in Test cricket, was laudable. He was stroking freely and came down heavily on left-arm spinner Raymond Price. His timing was superb and the ball raced to the fence.

Raymond Price's prize wicket, Sachin Tendulkar. The Zimbabwe bowler took five wickets in Nagpur.-VIVEK BENDRE

The one innings that India got to bat was not without its quota of failures. Admittedly Ganguly's 38 was not good enough to convince his critics, though he has found his touch. "I concentrated hard and settled down," said Ganguly. India's coach John Wright put up a strong defence for Venkatsai Laxman. "He was out to a good ball (from Price). He is a quality player and is among the top four batsmen in India. Nothing can change my opinion." At the post match press conference, Wright said in as many words that some of India's best players are also the team's worst fielders. The Bengal wicket-keeper and opening batsman, Dasgupta, was seen in poor light. There were many lapses on his part, as a 'keeper. But substitute fielder Sehwag had a great time, taking four catches (one in the first and three in the second). After a long time, India had an easy outing in the middle, thanks to the likes of Das, Tendulkar, Dravid, Bangar, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan and of course Man of the Match Kumble. For Zimbabwe, Price was the main wicket-taker with five victims.

The scores: Zimbabwe 287 (S.Carlisle 77, A.Campbell 57, T.Friend 60 n.o., Zaheer Khan 3-45, Kumble 4-82) and 182 (T.Gripper 60, A.Campbell 30, G.Rennie 25, Kumble 5-63, Harbhajan 4-46) lost to India 570-7 decl. (S.S.Das 105, D.Dasgupta 33, R.Dravid 65, Tendulkar 176, S.Ganguly 38, S.Bangar 100 n.o., Price 5-182).

INDIA's most successful bowler for more than a decade, Anil Kumble, won another Test match for his team. This time his able ally was Harbhajan Singh. The leg-spinner's five-wicket haul against Zimbabwe in the second innings of the first Test of the Pepsi series showed that he has not lost his skills. On the fourth day of the Test, he broke the back of Zimbabwe batting, taking the wickets of Alistair Campbell, Andrew Flower and Gavin Rennie and on the fifth morning took the valuable wickets of Grant Flower and Heath Streak. In the first innings, he had dismissed Campbell, Grant Flower, Tatenda Taibu and Brighton Watambwa. It was no mean achievement, considering that four of the five had been resolute performers against India not long ago. In fact, Campbell, Andrew Flower and Grant Flower had scored the bulk of the runs in the last Test played at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) ground 16 months ago. In November 2000, Grant Flower made a century in the first innings. And after India enforced the follow on, Campbell concentrated hard to make his maiden Test hundred that had eluded him for years. Afterwards, lefthander Andrew Flower took charge, excelled in defence and attack, improvised strokes and consistently made runs. The three Zimbabwe batsmen had driven India to despair then.

It was quite a different story altogether when the two teams met at Nagpur now. India's captain Sourav Ganguly said a hundred times that his spin attack had changed hands from Sarandeep Singh and Sunil Joshi (then in November 2000) to Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh (now in February 2002). The Indian captain hit the nail on its head. He was referring to the quality of the spinners. Kumble was the wrecker-in-chief, taking nine wickets. In his fledgling days with the Indian team, Kumble had teamed up well with the likes of left arm spinner Venkatapathy Raju to record wins for the country at home. The fading away of Raju left a void, but the advent of Harbhajan has given a new dimension to the Indian spin attack. Harbhajan established himself in the last series against Australia, taking 32 wickets. There was no support for him from the other end. Kumble was nursing a damaged shoulder. Since Kumble's return, the pair has done well. Both clicked against England in the first Test of the Hero Honda series in Mohali. Kumble met with success with a 10-wicket haul against England at Motera, went on to reach the 300 wicket mark at his home ground in Bangalore and then in Nagpur, he was in his element, after taking time to find his rhythm.