| Sourav Ganguly celebrates after claiming the wicket of Zimbabwe’s Andy Blignaut. (Reuters)
Harare, Feb. 19: A tale of two captains unfolded at the Harare Sports Club: Beleaguered Sourav Ganguly finally got something to smile about in the World Cup, Heath Streak was left ruing his decision to insert India.
Team India, in fact, didn’t have to fight till the last ball as the vital Pool A match was effectively sealed as early as the 67th over, when Zimbabwe’s top gun Andy Flower (in his last appearance here) was comprehensively deceived by Harbhajan Singh.
Andy’s exit made it 48 for three and even the most passionate would have given up hope.
If some still expected an epic recovery, Sourav shattered them by sending back Grant Flower and Dion Ebrahim off successive deliveries and Andy Blignaut in his very next over (87 for six).
The captain didn’t set the Hunyani on fire with his batting, but surely made amends with his teasing medium pace. Generally, Sourav has tended to underbowl himself. Now, perhaps, he won’t.
Everything after Blignaut’s departure, of course, was purely for the capacity (10,000) crowd’s entertainment. Requiring 256 to pocket four more points, Zimbabwe finished at 172 to lose by 83 runs. For India, it’s been the relaunching of Campaign 2003.
With eight points in three games, India are now looking to steamroll Namibia before the tougher matches versus England and Pakistan. Moreover, if both India and Zimbabwe qualify for the Super Six, today’s victory will allow India to carry forward the points.
“It’s a nice feeling... We probably got 20 runs less but, when in the field, kept the same intensity throughout. By fielding well, we saved around 20 runs,” said Sourav, quickly adding that the team played to “80 per cent” of potential. The change in the batting order, though, worked 100 per cent.
Basically, the captain’s message was Team India can and will do better.
Streak, who must carry the can for opting to field, admitted that the bowling wasn’t pressure-creating. “We conceded 20-25 runs more than we should have. Then, later, Andy didn’t hit the straps... He struggled and, at the same time, nobody else put up his hand.”
But, was the black armbands/wristbands issue a distraction for Andy' Streak sought to be diplomatic, but his tone suggested he wasn’t too happy: “I can’t say... It’s been a very personal thing.”
Inexplicably, Zimbabwe omitted Henry Olonga who, single-handedly, derailed India’s 1999 challenge. Purely for the psychological advantage, he should have been in the XI. Cricket has grown to have a huge psychological component and the home team erred by not capitalising on Olonga’s stunning show in Leicester.
Man of the Match Sachin Tendulkar (81 off 91 balls), who issued an unprecedented keep-faith-in-us appeal (on behalf of the team) yesterday, clearly took it upon himself to set an example. Yet, typically, he didn’t dwell on his innings.
“Having played badly against Australia, we needed to pull up our socks -- we did exactly that. Fans back home have, in the past, supported us and should continue doing so,” Sachin, beaten by the turn and bounce from Grant when cruising towards another hundred, pointed out.
The toss didn’t go India’s way, but the first 15 overs, specially, did as Sachin and Virender Sehwag collected 91 with disdain. The wicket had moisture, but they didn’t allow the quicks to settle. Eventually, those 15 overs made the most difference. Zimbabwe, by the way, only managed 43 for two.
There were a couple of decent partnerships even after Sehwag got out and, with Rahul Dravid dropping anchor, India played out the full 50 overs after many moons.
For coach John Wright, that had been priority No. 1.
In the Zimbabwe innings, senior pro Jawagal Srinath again turned in a splendid performance, reminding the Doubting Thomases that he isn’t through with the batsmen. But for his controlled effort, Zimbabwe may have got off to a flyer. For many, Srinath (8-1-14-2) was the Man of the Match.
While support for the home team was expectedly big, there was a sizeable turnout of Indian fans as well. Some even came from Kenya and Zambia. It was worth all that travel. Still, this isn’t the time to go overboard, just as that defeat at SuperSport Park wasn’t the time to pelt stones and wreck cars.