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Rewind to Zimbabwe’s first Test win against India

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Zimbabwe_India_Test_Cricket_winZimbabwe marked their arrival into Test cricket with a one-off match against India at Harare in 1992-93, and produced an admirable effort that belied their lack of experience at the highest level. Boosted by captain Dave Houghton’s 121, the African neophytes posted a formidable 456, before reducing India to 101/5. India ultimately averted defeat, but Zimbabwe had given the impression that it would only be a matter of time before they started winning.

The next time Zimbabwe hosted India in the five-day format was in 1998-99, again a one-off contest at the Harare Sports Club. In the six years in between, Zimbabwe had been competitive enough to hold the likes of England and New Zealand to series draws, even though they had only a solitary win – by an innings and 64 runs against Pakistan at Harare in 1994-95 – to show. Prior to the fixture against India, Zimbabwe’s Test record read one win and 15 defeats in 30 matches.

India’s 1998-99 tour, arranged at short notice, kicked off with a three-ODI series that finished a week prior to the start of the Test. Zimbabwe notched a consolatory 37-run win in the third ODI at Harare after losing each of the first two at Bulawayo by eight wickets. Craig Wishart (102) and Andy Flower (55) pushed Zimbabwe to 259/5, before pacers Eddo Brandes (2/25), who was returning after an illness, and Heath Streak (3/33) saw to it that India were bowled out for 222.

The Indians warmed up for the Test by drubbing a Zimbabwe Cricket Union President’s XI by an innings and 71 runs in a three-day first-class match. Leg-spinner Anil Kumble ran riot, not only taking ten wickets (5/35 and 5/18), but also scoring an unbeaten 100. All-rounder Neil Johnson, who formerly played for South Africa A, represented the ZCU President’s XI in this match. He debuted for Zimbabwe in the Test, which began three days later, on October 7, 1998.

Injury had ruled out three key Zimbabwean players – Grant Flower, Guy Whittall and Paul Strang – from the Test. On the other hand, India, led by Mohammad Azharuddin, were at full strength. The visitors fielded two debutants of their own: the promising seamer Ajit Agarkar and ODI regular Robin Singh (this would be his only Test). Azharuddin won the toss and elected to field, hoping for his team to improve their lacklustre overseas Test record.

The makeshift opening pair of Gavin Rennie and Wishart ensured that Grant Flower’s absence did not leave a gaping hole at the top. They put on 42 before Wishart was dismissed by Sourav Ganguly’s medium pace. Rennie (47) and Murray Goodwin (42) built on this platform with an assured stand of 78 for the second wicket that seemed to be driving Zimbabwe towards a position of strength. However, the Indian pace bowlers bounced back to engineer a middle-order collapse.

Javagal Srinath (3/59) had Wishart trapped on the pads and captain Alistair Campbell caught in the slips by Rahul Dravid off successive deliveries, before Rennie perished to Agarkar two runs later to make the score 122/4. Though Andy Flower resisted with a knock of 30, he could not forge a substantial partnership and was seventh out at 180 to Srinath. The spin duo of Kumble (3/42) and teenaged offie Harbhajan Singh also contributed towards maintaining India’s control.

It was only due to an unbeaten 28 from leg-spinner Adam Huckle, batting at number ten, that Zimbabwe could cross 200 and end their innings at 221. Fast bowler Henry Olonga bowled Nayan Mongia before stumps, with only two runs on the board. Olonga scalped Navjot Sidhu as well on the second day, while his new-ball partner Heath Streak (3/62) got rid of night watchman Anil Kumble to leave the score at a wobbly 49/3.

Sachin Tendulkar and Dravid embarked upon a repair job, adding 75 for the fourth wicket, but two quick wickets threw a spanner in the works. Johnson collected Tendulkar as his first Test wicket, and less than five overs later he took a catch off Olonga that accounted for Azharuddin. India were now five down and still trailing by 94. The resolute Dravid found welcome support in Ganguly (47), who helped him construct a vital sixth-wicket partnership of 86.

Dravid proceeded to score his second Test century, and ended the second day at 104* out of India’s 248/6. The last four wickets fell for the addition of just 21 runs on the third morning, two of them to the spirited Olonga, who returned a career-best haul of 5/70 in his first international appearance in nearly two years. Dravid was the last man out, caught by Johnson off Pommie Mbangwa for a fighting 118 that took seven hours.

With their team facing a deficit of 59, Rennie and Wishart put together more than thrice of what they shared in the first innings to turn the tables. They dug in for three and a half hours to build a 138-run stand, which remains a record for the first wicket in Tests between the two countries. Wishart was the first to depart, caught by Kumble (4/87) off his own bowling for 63. Goodwin added to India’s vexation with a brisk 44 scored during a second-wicket stand of 71 with Rennie.

The score was 201/1 when the left-handed Rennie, with 84 runs to his name, was forced to retire hurt after being struck on the helmet by a delivery from Srinath. The third day concluded with Zimbabwe placed at 219/2, ahead by 160 and steadily gaining the upper hand. Harbhajan (3/64) struck twice in as many balls to revive India’s hopes on the fourth morning, with the wickets of night watchman Olonga and Rennie, who returned to resume his innings but lasted only one ball.

Zimbabwe lost wickets at regular intervals thereafter, even as Flower attempted to hold the fort with an unbeaten 41, in the course of which he became the first Zimbabwean to reach the milestone of 2,000 Test runs. India took the last nine wickets for 92 to restrict the total to 293, and with five sessions left in the match, they faced the task of chasing down 235 in order to record only their second win in an overseas Test since their series triumph in England in 1986.

The start to the chase could hardly have been worse. Openers Mongia and Sidhu both fell without scoring, out to Olonga and Streak respectively, to leave the score at 6/2. The pitch was still offering bounce, and Zimbabwe’s pace attack made the most of it. Johnson again took the prized wicket of Tendulkar, caught behind by Flower. Azharuddin was also caught behind, the bowler being Streak this time. India were now reeling at a dire 37/4, which became 63/4 at tea.

Once again, the highest partnership of the innings was between Dravid (44) and Ganguly. Their 67-run association for the fifth wicket kept India alive, but once they were separated after Huckle snared Ganguly for 36, it all went downhill. From 104/4, India capitulated to 133/9 in just nine overs. Srinath and Harbhajan clouted 40 for the last wicket, but all it did was entertain. The end came at 173 with the run out of Srinath, confirming a 61-run win for Zimbabwe within four days.

In a laudable team effort, every bowler took at least one wicket each, with Johnson (3/41) the pick of the lot. Olonga was named Man of the Match for his first-innings bowling display. A few weeks later, Zimbabwe achieved their most memorable success – a 1-0 win in a three-Test series in Pakistan. They have not reached such heights ever since, though they did beat India in a Test for the second time in 2001, by four wickets at Harare to square a two-match series 1-1.



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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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