4th-wicket stand pulls Zimbabwe out of spot
Carlisle rues late wickets
Laxman still in different league
EB back in title-hunt
Crown for Rafiq Ali
BTTA obtains stay order
Bengal storm into semis
Pepsi outplay Berger
Masadur stable
Paikpara, Aikya win

New Delhi, Feb. 28: 
Zimbabwe 260/6

History has an uncanny way of repeating itself. In November 2000, when India last met Zimbabwe in a Test match in Delhi, the visitors after groping initially rallied to score a 400-plus total inspired by Andy Flower.

In the second Test of the current series, Zimbabwe were again reeling at 65 for three, before Andy on his favourite Kotla track, not only rediscovered his form but inspired a comeback. With Dion Ebrahim (the replacement for Gavin Rennie and the solitary change from the Nagpur Test) still unbeaten on 82, his fifth Test half century, a 400-plus total is still on the cards.

There were other remarkable conincidences too. In the 2000 Delhi Test, Jawagal Srinath dismissed their opener Grant Flower for a duck. A sharp inswinger castled Grant on a gloomy, murky morning. Today in similar overcast conditions, Srinath brought one back to dislodge skipper Stuart Carlisle’s bails, before he had opened his account.

On both occasions, Zimbabwe made a nightmarish start of 0 for 1. As in 2000, Zimbabwe’s road to recovery this time was also inspired by Andy, who narrowly missed his 13th Test century and third successive ton at the Kotla. In the 1992-93 season during Zimbabwe’s first-ever visit to India, Andy had scored 115 in Delhi.

In 2000, Zimbabwe were stuttering at 15 for two and recovered to post an imposing 422 for 9 declared, with Andy 183 not out. Today Zimbabwe were again in dire straits at 11 for two and 65 for three, before Andy and the compact Ebrahim waged a battle of attrition and put on 116 runs in 34.2 overs to enhance their total.

Ebrahim impressed in his comeback Test with his application, selection of strokes and temperament. He was not rattled by the bouncing deliveries of Srinath or Zaheer Khan (who again impressed with a hostile opening spell), or the pressure and turn applied by the spinners Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.

With the score at 200 for four, Grant Flower who had just come to the wicket, edged offie Harbhajan and Deep Dasgupta muffed the chance, letting the ball through his legs.

Despite the reassurance of skipper and coach, the pressure is obviously on young Dasgupta. His first coach Sunita Sharma had told him at nets yesterday, not to be hasty in closing his gloves around the ball. But Dasgupta again fumbled with his collections and was untidy behind the wicket. Though it must be said in his favour that after tea, the occasional ball tended to bounce awkwardly.

In fact, change bowler Virender Sehwag’s (who replaced V.V.S. Laxman from the Nagpur XI) sharp lifting off-break struck Deep just below the right eye. He later said that he might need stitches but will keep wickets.

The reprieve for Grant seemed ominous as he settled down and played the spinners with aplomb. He seemed set for a big score, when India got a lucky break. Ebrahim placing the ball to short mid-on, called for a quick single. Grant hesitated and was run out by Kumble who dived to his right and sent a perfect throw to the other end. Kumble’s diving run out was evidence enough that the Indians have taken coach John Wright’s scathing critcism of mediocre fielding quite seriously.

Today the ground fielding was sharp, with Zaheer, Kumble, Sanjay Bangar and Sehwag all making diving saves. Luckily for India, Grant’s let-off, when on just three, was not costly as he was dismissed for 30.

Then came another lucky dismissal. Vice-captain Heath Streak aimed to square cut Kumble but the ball kept low, took the inside edge and hit his wicket. From 246 for four, Zimbabwe slumped to 246 for six. Before these two dismissals, it seemed that Zimbabwe at stumps would be comfortably placed at about 280 for four and well on target of achieving a total of 450. But these two dismissals has swung the game India’s way.

Sourav handled his bowlers astutely. With the conditions overcast till lunch, he mostly used his seamers. Kumble (five overs for eight runs) and Harbhajan two overs were used sparingly before lunch. After lunch, he kept pace at one end and spin at the other. With the wicket getting uncertain, after tea, he bowled the spinners in tandem for long spells.

Zaheer’s sustained hostility in the morning showed that he has re-discovered his rhythm and pace. He forced both opener Trevor Gripper and Alistair Campbell to edge pacy, rising deliveries to Rahul Dravid at slip.

The epitome of determination, Andy’s return to form was the highlight of the day. He shunned, all risky strokes, like the reverse sweep or the lofted shot. Instead, he played straight and when he found his touch, glided the ball to the ropes, with his perfect timing. Most of his boundaries were either square of the wicket or behind, with cuts, nudges and well placed drives.

Sixty of his 92 runs came from boundaries and he handled all the bowlers with ease. A sizzling square drive for four and a sweep for six, both off successive deliveries by Kumble were his best shots. He got out to a ball from Harbhajan which kept low, skidded and did not turn much.


New Delhi, Feb. 28: 
Zimbabwe skipper Stuart Carlisle was in a pensive mood when he met the Media after stumps. “It would have been a good day for us, if only four wickets had fallen.”

He felt Grant Flower’s run out was suicidal and could prove the turning point of this match. He was also upset that immediately after Grant’s dismissal, another wicket (Heath Streak) fell.

Carlisle feels a total of 400-plus is essential, as the wicket has no grass and will aid spinners from the second day.

The Zimbabwe skipper expects Dion Ebrahim to play a big and responsible knock.

About the gains of the day, Carlisle said: “It was the return to form of Andy Flower and the responsible knock of Ebrahim,” he pointed out.

Carlisle insisted there was no instruction on Andy to eschew the reverse sweep. He added the former captain had decided to play straight.

Carlisle felt the Kotla pitch would turn more than Nagpur. He also felt that spinner Ray Price could prove dangerous if he got support from the other end. This means Grant and Trevor Gripper will get long spells.

Andy was delighted at being back among the runs. “I was timing the ball perfectly. I am disappointed at missing out on my third successive Test century here,” Andy said. “The ball kept low and did not turn as much as I expected, so I was caught half-cock,” he said of his dismissal.


Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
It’s not known who knocked on Sourav Ganguly’s door around 9.30 pm at the Taj Palace yesterday but, in the context of V.V.S. Laxman’s exclusion from the XI in the Kotla Test, recalling what happened on the eve of the first Test, in Nagpur, won’t be out of place.

Sourav, in fact, had just finished a butter naan-murgh mussallam-dal fry dinner when a national selector came to his room at the Pride Hotel. Instead of the intended five, the two spoke for a good 15 minutes and, when The Telegraph later contacted the Indian captain, he seemed rather uncomfortable.

Apparently, Sourav had already conveyed to Laxman that he would feature in the XI, yet the selectors were intent on playing Virender Sehwag. The captain, then, was in a distinctly awkward position.

Next morning, though, Sourav and coach John Wright were able to convince Chandu Borde and Co. that the first-choice just had to be India’s highest individual run-getter (in Tests) and not Sehwag. Most people assumed Sanjay Bangar had kept Sehwag out, but the toss-up was between Laxman and Sehwag.

Laxman, of course, didn’t make most of the opportunity and, by scoring 13, helped Sehwag’s ‘cause’. Indeed, despite what Wright said (“Laxman remains among the top-four batsmen”) at the post-match Media conference in Nagpur, it was clear the selectors would insist on Sehwag replacing Laxman at the Kotla.

This debate may not end in a hurry, but shouldn’t the captain and coach always have their way in fielding the XI? After all, when it comes to that, the accountability-axe will fell them, not the selectors.

[For the record, in ODIs, both Sourav and Wright have consistently regarded Sehwag as a matchwinner.]

Much is being made of Laxman’s failure — just two fifty-plus scores (89 and 75) in 11 Test innings since the phenomenal 503 runs against Australia last season. Yet, nobody cares to remember that vice-captain Rahul Dravid went through 16 innings without a single fifty in a 12-month period beginning November 1999.

Dravid wasn’t dropped.

Then, as has been well talked about (often, unfortunately, with a vested interest), Sourav himself hasn’t got a Test fifty after that epic unbeaten 98 in Kandy, last August. Obviously, the captain didn’t lose his place either.

Absolutely no one is suggesting Sehwag doesn’t have class. In ODIs, for instance, he is a certainty. In Tests, however, Laxman should be preferred. He stands in a different league. Moreover, it’s so unfair to only hold Laxman — among the most gentleman of cricketers — accountable.

Three decades ago, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkatraghavan mostly had to battle for one spot. And, when Mansur Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi was captain, he invariably opted for Prasanna. In an ideal situation, yes, both ought to have played.

Today, there appears to be a re-play. Only, it involves two gifted batsmen and not top-drawer off-spinners. Again, in an ideal situation, both probably should play.

Speaking exclusively the other day, Sourav had talked of just how difficult it had been to accept Laxman’s exclusion (last month) after the first three ODIs versus England. It must have been tougher on Sourav this morning.


Calcutta, Feb. 28: 

Football is alive and kicking, still, in the country. Today’s Tata National Football League match saw East Bengal waste a zillion chances before fighting back to win from a one-goal deficit, saw Mahindra United defender Anthony Pereira marched out by referee T. Pradip Kumar who, in turn, had a rather disastrous outing. And it was a match that rekindled the Calcutta giants’ hopes of retaining the national title.

To apply a skewed cliché to the game today, one would be prompted to say boys will be boys and don’t play soccer if you aren’t prepared to roll up your sleeves and dig in.

East Bengal were looking dazed with the misses they presented — some rather atrocious, some plain dummy. Hence when S. Venkatesh punted home in the 21st minute off a counter-attack, one could virtually see tension break through in perspiration on coach Subhas Bhowmick’s forehead. There was this excuse of an off-side overlooked, but if it had been overlooked then Khalique Siddique’s pass to Venkatesh inside the box was legal. It was also that much legal when Venkatesh saw East Bengal goalkeeper Sudip Sarkar out of the way. The goal was good.

Yet, looking back, it was probably a good omen. It was the whiplash that opened East Bengal’s eyes to the one thing they had failed to see in the great domination throughout — the goal. Charging back a minute later, the Calcutta team equalised through a charged rush-back to rival defence zones. Falguni Dutta’s free-kick reached the goalmouth, high enough for substitute (in place of Bijen Singh) Dipendu Biswas to head home.

The winner was a gem. Suley Musah, who along with Jose Carlos Da Silva were the players to note today, went up the right in the 27th minute and entered the box. The pace was quick and the fine-placed grounder from an acute angle had nobody in doubt as to the dangers of a Musah in the box.

All that was after East Bengal made a hash of several chances, and before Mahindra United players failed to keep their cool, as Anthony Pereira hit out at Dipankar Roy off the ball in the 75th minute. Referee Kumar, who was alarmed as he watched the match go out of control, slapped the red card quickly.

Kumar had learned the hard way. In the 40th minute a Mahindra challenger took things rather seriously and tried to stop Carlos too physically. A teammate went up and pushed Carlos to the ground. Referee Kumar noticed nothing, he was way off the action. When Carlos saw his protestations gain no currency, he dived and started suddenly, to ‘writhe in pain.’ Anybody could see through it. But with the score still goalless, the spectators thought it was a good thing to protest. There were some minor missiles landing on the ground that probably scared Mahindra coach Harish Rao so much that he walked into the field and ordered his men to stop playing.

The referee simply had no clue what was going on. Play was held up for four minutes and he could not even show anybody a card. East Bengal now have 20 points from 13 matches. Mahindra stay on 23 from as many ties.


EAST BENGAL: Sudip Sarkar, Suley Musah, Isiaka Awoyemi, Dipak Mondal, Jackson Egygpong, Falguni Dutta, Chandan Das, Anit Ghosh (Jo Paul Ancheri, 85), Dipankar Roy, Jose Carlos Da Silva, Bijen Singh (Dipendu Biswas, 52).

MAHINDRA UNITED: Virender Singh, M. Suresh, Isa Musah Iroje (Khalid Jamil, 64), Tapan Ghosh, Anthony Pereira, Habib Adekunie, Khalid Siddique (Sabir Ali Mondal, 78), Jules Alberto Dias, S. Venkatesh, Bala Usman, Austin Okolo.

Referee: T. Pradip Kumar (Tamil Nadu)


Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
Local greens are back in local custody. After the disappointment of Gaurav Ghei taking off with the recent Telegraph Open, it looked as if Calcuttans had lost touch with their own Royal Calcutta Golf Club. Rafiq Ali dispelled such doubts today, ending his 18-month wait for a title as he played safe and steady to give himself an early birthday present by winning the third Royal Challenge Grand Prix series event.

Rafiq, who turns 32 Sunday, took virtually no chances as he slotted three comfortable birdies, but gave away four bogeys to finish the day at one-over 73 and the tournament at six-under 210. That, still was good for a clear three-stroke victory over the first Grand Prix event (Noida) Vijay Kumar, who was second at three-under 213.

Vijay did give a good try during the day, but still failed to catch up with the local man, who lives a stone’s throw from the course and understandably had a considerable gallery.

Making it a fine day for the locals, were Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia and Rahil Gangjee, who finished in the three-way tie for the third place, with Bangalorean Rahul Ganapathy as the third player at one-over 217.

Indrajit Bhalotia, who brought in a three-under 69 for the final round, tied for the sixth place with veteran Rohtas Singh, who was in the top for the 12th time in 21 starts, and Yusuf Ali, as all of them finished at two-over 218. Finishing ninth was old warhorse Shiv Prakash at three-over 219 with a final day’s score of 74.

Completing the top ten was a six-way tie between Mumbai RCGP winner Mukesh Kumar, Amit Dube, Sanjay Kumar, Ali Sher, Vinod Kumar and Digvijay Singh. Firoz Ali finished tied for 16th.


Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
The Bengal Table Tennis Association (BTTA) has obtained a stay order from the Calcutta High Court against the national federation’s (TTFI) threat to disaffiliate the state body.

In a statement today, the BTTA said the TTFI asked the state body to amend its constitution by including district associations as constituting units instead of clubs.

According to BTTA officials, the TTFI demand is unfair.

National table tennis

Ranabir Das and Anindita Chakraborty of Railways will meet PSCB’s Arup Basak and Mouma Das in the mixed doubles final of the national table tennis championship, adds PTI from New Delhi.

Ranabir and Anindita beat teammates Sourav Chakraborty and and Mousumi Pal 3-1 in the semi-finals, while Arup and Mouma blanked Deepak Thukral and Kanchan Basak 3-0.


Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
Bengal stormed into the semi-finals of the 10th women’s national football championship today.

They rode a Sayanti Nundy brace to beat Kerala 2-0 in their group B quarter final league match at SAI, Eastern Centre.

In group B played in Siliguri, Manipur rode a Tababi Devi hattrick to outclass Assam 5-0 while Bihar blanked Tripura 3-0 to book last four berths, adds PTI.


Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
Topsel made a clean sweep in group D winning their last league match against Madhya Bharat Paper 21-4, 5-21, 21-3 in The Telegraph Merchants’ Cup badminton meet at the Saturday Club.

In one-sided matches, Nicco trounced ITC B 21-2, 21-0, ITC ‘A’ beat Williamson Magor 21-4, 21-3, Assam Company beat J. Thomas 21-7, 21-2 while The Telegraph beat Ogilvy and Mather 21-8, 17-21, 21-1 and Pepsi beat Berger 21-11, 21-5.


Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
Orthopaedically handicapped swimmer Mohammed Masadur Rahman Baidya, injured in a road accident on Tuesday night, was operated on successfully today at a city hospital.

The two-and-a-half hour-long operation which included bone-grafting was performed by orthopaedic surgeon Dr Kunal Sengupta.

According to Dr Sengupta, the swimmer, who is in a stable condition, will be kept in the ITU for a day or two before being shifted back to a general bed.


Calcutta, Feb. 28: 
Paikpara Sporting, Aikya Sammilani, City AC and BNR won their respective relegation play-off matches in the CAB first division league today.


BNR 391/9. Calcutta Rangers 247 (Rajib Ranjan Dutta 61, Pradip Dey 49; Sanjoy Choubey 5/78). BNR won by 144 runs.

Manoharpukur Milan Samity 316. Aikya Sammilani 317/7 (Avijit Bose 49, Aadipta Mukherjee 48, Mazhar Ali 47). Aikya won by 3 wkts.

Barisha Sporting Club 368/7. Taltola Institute 279 (Surojit Banerjee 63, Mrinal Dey 47, Somak Chakraborty 46; Harvinder Singh 4/76). Barisha won by 89 runs.

Paikpara Sporting Club 283. YMCA College 159 (Iresh Saxena 3/40). Paikpara won by 124 runs.

Sporting Union 264. City AC 265/4 (Prashant Kamdar 111n.o., Sampad Pattanayak 64n.o.; Swagat Roy 4/70, Subhodeep Bose 4/82). City AC won by 6 wkts.


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