Youth power saves India the blushes

S. RAM MAHESH

Yuvraj Singh cracked a fine century and put on 158 runs for the sixth wicket in 140 balls with Mahendra Singh Dhoni to put India on road to victory.-V.V. KRISHNAN

THE final league match of the Videocon tri-series at the Harare Sports Club promised little action for the holiday crowd, which grew progressively noisier and rowdier. The teams contesting the final had been chalked down before the tournament began, and things occurred accordingly.

Most of the action in this match happened early and off the field.

First, Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) withdrew the contracts of Stuart Carlisle and Barney Rodgers, who ZC said demanded too much. Then, Tatenda Taibu stepped on to the field for the team photograph with his wicket keeping gloves and pads. Sourav Ganguly indicated he had chosen to field not bat. Heath Streak had surgery the previous day to remove a blood clot in his left shin, and missed the match.

Amidst all the brouhaha, India looked like losing the match before the recalcitrance of youth took over. Yuvraj Singh and M. S. Dhoni played brilliant knocks putting on 158 in 140 balls to take India to a four-wicket win, chasing a surprisingly high 250.

Zimbabwe had saved its best performance for last. "The partnerships were magnificent. With Blignaut coming in the way he did, it gave us a chance," said Kevin Curran, Zimbabwe coach. A chance, Yuvraj proceeded to erase.

The left-hander's fourth ODI century (120, 124b, 12x4, 1x6), coming close on the heels of buddy Mohammad Kaif's match-winning effort, was sensible and breath-taking in equal measure; the celebrations a trifle more composed than last time around.

Tatenda Taibu and Charles Coventry (below)... brilliant half-centuries.-V.V. KRISHNAN

"It feels nice," said Yuvraj. "I was short of confidence going to Sri Lanka. Greg (Chappell) and Ian (Frazer) worked on my footwork. I am pleased with my footwork. The wicket was a little slow to start with, but if you settled it was different. So I tried to increase the rate after settling."

M. S. Dhoni sauntered out with half the side down for 91 and ran hard with a surprisingly mature Yuvraj. Gaps that had earlier seemed like desert mirages, now lost any illusory qualities. Strangely, Taibu persisted with his non-regular bowlers: Sean Williams and Keith Dabengwa. The two were eased around the field.

The match could have gone Zimbabwe's way had Taibu managed to stump Dhoni off Williams. India was on 140 for five, Dhoni on 22. "It was one of those things that happen," said Curran. "But if we had managed to get Dhoni then, it would have been different."

The left-armers were manhandled and an equation that threatened to slip away reduced to 47 in 48 balls. Good old-fashioned one-day cricket — ones and twos and straight hits in between — had taken over.

"No. Never," said Yuvraj when asked if he ever thought India would lose. "I knew if I stayed till the end, we would win. There was still J. P. and Agarkar. And Dhoni has been in good form."

V.V. KRISHNAN

Dhoni's second successive finishing effort (67, 63b, 1x4, 3x6) followed another tidy day behind the stumps. The gloveman from Jharkhand looked balanced when he stood up to the medium pace of Ganguly and J. P. Yadav. He had struggled with the big gloves in Sri Lanka and his improved performance in this series has been heartening.

The Indian top-order would have put a recidivist to shame — four wickets falling for 36. Rahul Dravid fell cheaply, bowled again. The Indian vice-captain's role is crucial in chases and his failure doesn't bode well for the final. Mohammad Kaif could have made way for Suresh Raina, but he played and got a dodgy decision.

Venugopal Rao entered the cauldron, without a run to his name on tour so far. Except for a tendency to angle the ball to third-man, with the bat not quite in the recommended position, the man from Andhra looked promising. Till spinners Prosper Utseya and Gavin Ewing tightened the screws. Rao went through a phase where he found fielders inside the circle unerringly.

The run-rate mounted, the crowd jibed. Two rushes of blood cost Rao his wicket. First he was dropped off a shot triggered by the situation. Then Super Sub nailed Super Sub. Keith Dabengwa splattered the stumps after Rao took off for a non-existent single. In a perverse way, it helped India.

Earlier in the day, Vusimuzi Sibanda and Masakadza, two of Zimbabwe's most talented youngsters, were consumed by debutant R. P. Singh's swerve in one over. The control switch of India's assembly line of swing bowlers seems to have got stuck in the `left-handed' mode.

Brendan Taylor's static feet were cause for much mirth and technical pontification. The one time his feet did move, he was caught short of his crease. Yuvraj did an uncanny impression of himself from the match against New Zealand, meeting grass, twisting around and uprooting middle stump.

The last two months have built up a lot of frustration for Taibu. He chose to unleash it on that Sunday. The 22-year-old is affable and polite. His strokes were anything but that. Ganguly, J. P. Yadav and Harbhajan were clubbed.

To Murali Kartik, Taibu went down on a knee as often as a compulsive proposer. Sweeps and reverse sweeps were the outcome. Charles Coventry could have been Clark Kent. Maybe it's the spectacles. Or maybe it's the uninhibited hitting, completely out of sync with the stereotype.

The two put on 116 in 137 balls — Zimbabwe's first century partnership of the tournament — before Yadav snuck one through Taibu (71, 97b, 5x4, 2x6). Instead of tempering himself, Coventry put the ball through a window two floors above the sightscreen.

Part Two of R. P. Singh's dream debut grew sour; Blignaut grew vigorous.

Agarkar returned to claim Coventry (74, 99b, 7x4, 3x6) and some more. For the Zimbabwe fans, sickened on a diet of failure, their last two league matches offered hope. "We've competed in the last two matches. Our fielding has improved," said Curran. "We've always been a top fielding side and that's coming back."

The scores

Zimbabwe: V. Sibanda lbw b R. P. Singh 1; B. Taylor (run out) 26; H. Masakadza c & b R. P. Singh 0; T. Taibu b Yadav 71; C. Coventry c Kartik b Agarkar 74; A. Blignaut st. Dhoni b Harbhajan 41; S. Williams (run out) 8; G. Ewing lbw b Kartik 7; N. Mahwire b Agarkar 2; P. Utseya b Agarkar 0; A. Ireland (not out) 1; Extras (lb-13, w-4, nb-2) 19. Total (in 50 overs) 250.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-4, 3-50, 4-166, 5-227, 6-232, 7-246, 8-248, 9-249.

India bowling: R. P. Singh 8-1-44-2; Agarkar 10-3-34-3; Yadav 9-1-44-1; Harbhajan 10-0-39-1; Kartik 9-1-52-1; Ganguly 4-1-24-0.

India: V. Sehwag b Mahwire 12; S. Ganguly c Sibanda b Ireland 2; M. Kaif lbw b Blignaut 8; R. Dravid b Mahwire 6; Yuvraj c Dabengwa b Blignaut 120; Y. Venugopal Rao (run out) 27; M. Dhoni (not out) 67; Jai P. Yadav (not out) 0; Extras (lb-1, w-11, nb-1) 13. Total (for six wkts. in 48.1 overs) 255.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-23, 3-34, 4-36, 5-91, 6-249.

Zimbabwe bowling: Mahwire 9.1-0-40-2; Ireland 10-0-59-1; Blignaut 9-0-54-2; Ewing 5-0-23-0; Utseya 6-0-25-0; Williams 5-0-30-0; Dabengwa 4-0-23-0.

Zimbabwe full substitute: K. Dabengwa (B. Taylor, India innings, 19.0 ov).

India full substitute: Y. Venugopal Rao (R. P. Singh, India innings, 9.2 ov).