| Andy Flower drives en route to his century at the Premadasa Stadium Saturday. (AFP)
Colombo, Sept. 14 (PTI): Mohammad Kaif’s maiden century guided India to a 14-run victory over Zimbabwe in their ICC Champions Trophy opener on Saturday.
Kaif’s unbeaten 111 off 112 balls pulled India out of trouble and helped the side post a healthy 288 for six in the stipulated 50 overs. In reply, Zimbabwe were restricted to 274 for eight despite a brilliant 145 by Andy Flower, the highest individual one-day score by any Zimbabwean.
The Indians, playing just four days after ending a tiring tour of England, slumped to 87 for five in the 14th over after electing to bat before Rahul Dravid and Kaif staged a brilliant recovery.
The pair put on 117 runs for the sixth wicket at a good pace with Dravid contributing a fine 71 off 81 balls including seven hits to the fence. Dravid was run out while going for a non-existent single but Kaif continued with his beautifully paced innings to register his first one-day International hundred.
For Zimbabwe, Andy Flower waged a lone battle as none of the other batsmen gave him much support. Grant Flower (33) and Guy Whittall (29) stayed for some time to build good partnerships with Andy but they perished at crucial times.
Like India, Zimbabwe too had a bad start with Zaheer Khan removing opener Dion Ebrahim (0) off the fourth ball of the innings. Zaheer, who finished with four for 45, sent back Alistair Campbell (8) in the tenth over before the two Flower brothers stabilised the innings with a 84-run stand for the third wicket.
Andy, who missed at least two stumping chances and one run out of Kaif in a forgettable day behind the wickets, was at his dominating best as he used the trademark sweeps and reverse-sweeps to great effect.
A fine piece of fielding by Yuvraj Singh at point resulted in the run out of Grant Flower and ended the flourishing partnership.
After Sachin Tendulkar, who could manage only seven runs earlier in the day, clean bowled Stuart Carlisle for two, Andy built another good partnership with Whittal.
The two added 71 runs for the fifth wicket before Zaheer Khan claimed his third wicket with Whittal edging one to wicketkeeper Dravid at the total of 201.
Even though Andy fought till the very end, Whittal’s dismissal in the 40th over completely derailed the Zimbabwean chase. Douglas Marillier managed only 14 while Sean Ervine scored seven before becoming Zaheer’s fourth victim on the innings’ last ball.
Andy was finally out in the penultimate over, caught by Sourav Ganguly off Tendulkar.
Earlier, the Indian top order collapsed in a heap with Douglas Hondo claiming four wickets. Skipper Sourav and Virender Sehwag put on 25 runs in the first three overs before Hondo wreaked havoc. Sourav (13) and Dinesh Mongia (0) fell in the fourth over at the same score of 25, both caught in the slips by Campbell. Tendulkar (7) lasted only 16 balls before he too edged Hondo to Campbell in the tenth over.
Sehwag, meanwhile, played some brilliant strokes and raced to 48 as the Indians maintained a very healthy run rate despite the fall of wickets.