Flowers prove a thorn in Indian flesh

HARARE, JUNE 16. War paint on his face, and a prayer on his lips, the little kid in the stands projected the new image of the Zimbabwean cricket fan - sure of his team. If he had hope, how could not the Zimbabwean dressing room.

Confidence was the biggest gain for Heath Streak and his men and also for that kid who sat the entire day, cheering his team's fightback against the formidable Indians. Formidable on paper at least, if not entirely in their deeds this day, the second of the second Test of the series.

It was a disappointing show by the Indian bowlers. What does one make of an attack which looks up to Sachin Tendulkar for breakthroughs. He earned one this day but hardly the solution as Zimbabwe batted with lot of substance and the depth too came alive with the likes of Streak and Andy Blignaut matching the efforts of the Flower brothers, Andy and Grant, and Dion Ebrahim to some extent.

The Indians managed to remove Andy Flower but ran into an immensely confident Grant, who hit his 12 Test half century. And quite a timely one as Zimbabwe, resuming at 31 for three, finished the day at 301 for eight, 64 runs ahead of India. It was an innings of grit and just the tonic his team needed to keep its chances bright. He may have played and missed a lot but what mattered was he returned unconquered.

The Zimbabweans set themselves a goal - grind the Indians and cement the advantage gained by their bowlers on the first day. It was not an easy task, for the Indians were equally determined to strangle the opposition.

It was for this reason that the game was intense. There might have been spells of some mediocre cricket from the Indians but the fact remained that Zimbabwe had a role marked for its batsmen and they lived up to the expectations of the holiday crowd at the Harare Sports Club.

Just two wickets in the first session and one in the second was obviously frustrating for the Indians but then the bowlers were erratic and lacked the heart to stick to a plan. The bowlers allowed the game to drift and the captain's job became tougher as Andy Flower and Dion Ebrahim dug themselves in, showing the way for the rest.

Once again Ashish Nehra was the pick of the bowlers as he toiled the entire day, making up for the inconsistent Javagal Srinath and Ajit Agarkar. He kept the ball up and moved it appreciably but his deception did not bring him the rewards he deserved.

Srinath was a shadow of his self despite the fact that he tried his best. He could not strike a decent line the entire day. Agarkar bowled well in his first spell, was savaged in his second trying too hard and was generally not incisive enough to evoke any confidence in the mind of his captain.

Sourav Ganguly was left with just one option to look forward to - Harbhajan Singh. The off-spinner too was below his best even though he varied his pace cleverly and managed to get some turn. But he struggled to get the right length.

Against this background of the Indian attack, it was natural for the Zimbabwean batsmen to grow in confidence and Andy Flower showed the way with a glorious assault on the Indian off- spinner. In one particular over, Harbhajan was swept and reverse- swept by Andy Flower in quite a disdainful manner for 14 runs. A fascinating contest developed between the two as Andy Flower relished the bowling and raised a crucial stand with Ebrahim.

Ebrahim was content to graft but Andy Flower played his shots and it took a remarkable catch at short-leg by Shiv Sundar Das to send off the Zimbabwean who completed 1000 Test runs against India during the course of this innings. It was a good wicket for Harbhajan who had come in for some rough treatment at the hands of Andy Flower.

Ebrahim left soon, trapped in front attempting a heave. He was caught in two minds and failed to connect the ball which was pushed through quickly. Ebrahim had survived a leg- before shout off Agarkar, earning the benefit from umpire Ian Robinson. The same umpire gave Andy Flower the benefit too against the same bowler a while before he got out. Later in the day, Robinson ruled Andy Blignaut not out when the left-hander nicked Harbhajan to Sameer Dighe. Like Ebrahim and Andy Flower, the hard-hitting Blignaut too did not survive long.

Zimbabwe looked much more organised having recognised the need to bat better. Streak had made his anger known on the eve of the match and he led by example this day, crafting a disciplined innings which gave the tam all the strength it looked forward to from its skipper.

Streak dominated the sixth-wicket partnership with Grant Flower before a freak dismissal ended his stay. Streak dragged the ball in off his pads in playing no shot. Tendulkar could draw ample consolation from the mode of dismissal having been a victim on the first day.

The gloom in the stands was lifted by an attacking Blignaut, who tore into the attack with some daring strokeplay. He hoisted Tendulkar over midwicket and then dealt a tremendous blow to Harbhajan, driving him over extra cover - the two glorious sixes putting the Indian attack in its place. The second six carried Zimbabwe past the Indian total.

The Zimbabweans showed no hurry to garner the runs as Grant Flower carried the lower half with him. It was his second successive half-century of the series and far more disciplined. It had lot of substance as Grant blunted the bowlers with a very sensible attitude. The runs came steadily once he gauged the situation.

Grant Flower did resist the temptation to play his shots but only for a while. He was sever on the bowler when smashing the ball square of the wicket and was the motivation for the team to rattle 101 runs in the second session, quite an entertaining phase for the audience. He continued his good work with some commitment from the tailenders and the Indians' agony stretched late into the day.

The new ball brought a wicket for the hard-working Nehra when he swung the ball in to castle Travis Friend but it did not deter Grant Flower from carrying on his mission of extending the first innings lead to an impressive stage, with the little kid in the stands, not to speak of the elders, enjoying every moment of it.

INDIA - 1st innings: 237

ZIMBABWE - 1st innings:

Guy Whittall c Dravid b Nehra 0 (7m, 7b) Dion Ebrahim lbw b Harbhajan 49 (163m, 108b, 6x4) Stuart Carlisle c Badani b Nehra 3 (7m, 5b) Alistair Campbell b Nehra 8 (17m, 9b, 1x4) Andy Flower c Das b Harbhajan 45 (125m, 65b, 5x4) Grant Flower (batting) 80 (293m, 216b, 11x4) Heath Streak b Tendulkar 40 (99m, 81b, 5x4) Andy Blignaut st Dighe b Harbhajan 35 (65m, 39b, 4x4, 2x6) Travis Friend b Nehra 15 (50m, 37b) Brain Murphy (batting) 17 (69m, 41b, 3x4) Extras (lb-5, nb-2, w-2) 9 --- Total (for eight wkts) 301 ---

Fall of wickets: 1-5 (Whittall), 2-9 (Carlisle), 3-18 (Campbell), 4-105 (A. Flower), 5-110 (Ebrahim), 6-175 (Streak), 7-242 (Bilgnaut), 8-271 (Friend).

India bowling: Srinath 26-6-76-0 (w-2), Nehra 24-6-72- 4, Agarkar 26-7-62-0, (nb-1), Harbhajan 23-5-67-3, Tendulkar 4-0-19-1 (nb- 1).