Harare: India’s cricketers answered the call of their anxious fans back home with an emphatic 83-run victory in a World Cup league match against Zimbabwe here on Wednesday, keeping themselves on course for a Super Six berth from group A.
It required a hostile reaction from fans back home to shake the team out their slumber and make them come up with a vastly improved all-round performance.
The Indian batsmen lasted their full quota of 50 overs for the first time in the last 11 matches, posting a decent 255 for seven, which was built around a fine knock of 81 by Sachin Tendulkar. The team then put up a disciplined performance in the field to skittle out Zimbabwe for 172 in 44.4 overs and register their second win in three matches. Skipper Sourav Ganguly, who scored 24, returned a three-wicket haul.
India now have eight points, same as group leaders Australia, who however have played one game less. Zimbabwe, who benefited from a walkover by England, also have eight points from three games, having defeated minnows Namibia. Playing in the backdrop of disturbing incidents of violence by angry fans, the Indians did well not to buckle under pressure.
Tendulkar, who had last night assured the supporters that the team will fight to the last ball, provided a flying start in the company of Virender Sehwag, putting on 99 runs for the first wicket in under 17 overs.
The Najafgarh lad, back to his usual opening role after coming at number three in the previous two games, started the flow of runs, hitting a couple of boundaries in the second over. But Tendulkar soon took over and dominated thereon.
He struck a flurry of boundaries, taking advantage of the Zimbabweans’ inconsistent line and length, as India raced to 50 in the eighth over. Tendulkar enjoyed maximum strike and made full use of the opportunities, looking determined to prove a point. Sehwag, who scored 36 runs with six fours, scored at better than run-a-ball but still had to take the backseat as runs flowed from the Little Master’s bat.
Sehwag was out while trying to cut Guy Whittal in the 17th over, giving wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu a catch off a top edge.
Barring Yuvraj Singh, all the main batsmen made useful contributions. Rahul Dravid remained unbeaten on 43 while Mohammed Kaif, under tremendous pressure to score, made 25 off 24 balls. The Indians could have done even better had they not got a bit bogged down in the middle overs after the quick dismissals of Tendulkar and Dinesh Mongia by Grant Flower in the 28th over.
Mongia, who came at number three, took 37 balls for his 12 runs before holing out to Douglas Hondo. One ball later, Tendulkar, looking well set for a century, was completely taken by surprise by a beautiful delivery that spun a long way before knocking off the bails. Tendulkar struck 10 boundaries in his 91-ball innings.
Following the twin losses, Sourav and Dravid found the going tough against the double spin attack of Grant and Brian Murphy. The run rate, which was around six an over when Tendulkar was batting, dropped to below five as Zimbabwe slowly fought their way back.
The Indian captain, who had to demote himself in the order due to his woeful form, batted with a lot of patience before coming down the track to hoist Murphy for a straight six. But just when he was looking to settle down, he skied one to Streak at long-on off Andy Blignaut.
After Yuvraj was dismissed for one, Dravid and Kaif put on 43 for the sixth wicket. It was hard work for the Indians in the slog overs too as Zimbabwe fielded outstandingly well.
The Indians also bowled and fielded well when Zimbabwe came out to bat. Jawagal Srinath, who returned figures of two for 14 from eight overs, dismissed Mark Vermeulen for nought in the first over and Craig Wishart (12) in the ninth to leave Zimbabwe at 23 for two.
The dangerous Andy Flower survived as many as five easy chances during his short and shaky innings of 22 before Harbhajan Singh bowled him around his legs. Brother Grant, who had sustained a finger injury while attempting a difficult catch earlier, put on 35 for the fourth wicket with Dion Abraham before both were sent back to the pavilion by Sourav off successive deliveries.
The captain added Blignaut to his list of victims in his next over as Zimbabwe slumped to 87 for six in the 26th over. Sourav finished with three for 22 from five overs.That left the young Tatenda Taibu fighting a lost battle. Taibu, who remained unbeaten with the top-score of 29, put on 37 runs for the seventh wicket with Whittal (28) and 36 for the eighth with Streak (20).