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India on course for whitewash

S. Ram Mahesh



PERFECT DELIVERY: Heath Streak came up with a splendid spell to claim six wickets. Here Dinesh Kaarthick is clean bowled. — Photo: V.V. Krishnan

HARARE: The Indian batsmen crept into shells of stupor, Heath Streak found his thunder. But these contrasting events were pushed to the periphery late in the evening by Indian fielding, which set the visitors up for a series whitewash on the second day of the second Royal Stag Test at the Harare Sports Club here on Wednesday. Zimbabwe ended with 39 for four in its second innings, a whopping 166 in arrears.

With a lead of 34 going into day two, India's efforts at widening the difference fell flat. Streak minus the troublesome blood clot hustled and muscled all day, moving the ball in the air and off the wicket. One spell of fourteen consecutive overs with the second new ball for four wickets left him with career-best figures of six for 73.

India's batting performance for the day read 171 for nine in 64.3 overs. Both Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid fell agonisingly short of centuries.

But, first the fielding. Denied two simple catches in Zimbabwe's first innings by rude dives in front of him, Dravid decided enough was enough. Moving sharply yet gracefully to his right, his palms ended the flight of a Terrence Duffin nick. Yuvraj Singh at gully altered the position of his body, twisting mid air, to catch up with an edge that had passed him. Senior statesman Anil Kumble then dived forward to get his long fingers under a dying ball. And emerged with his right hand raised in triumph.

Earlier Gambhir, needing five for his second Test century, rued not sealing the deal on Tuesday.

Blessing Mahwire had angled one across him in Bulawayo and the left-hander had caught enough of the ball to send it to slip. On Wednesday, Gambhir forced his hands at the ball similarly in a near bent-knee drive but merely feathered it.

Laxman, Ganguly fail

The centurions from the previous Test, V.V.S. Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, failed to repeat the dose. The Indian skipper poked around for more than an hour during which he actually lost touch. Ganguly began well but turned edgy. He became debutant Waddington Mwayenga's first wicket via an open bat face prompting rare wild celebrations by Zimbabwe.

Rahul Dravid had said after his refined 77 in the first Test that he'd take an ugly century to a pretty 70 any day. He put his bat where his mouth is. On 49 overnight, Dravid crawled to 73 at lunch. The wicket wasn't easy — it inhaled the ball and spat it out in a slow loopy curve. The bowlers finally managed to send the ball on one side of the stumps and fields were set accordingly. Yet the batsmen should have pressed on. Or at least rotated the strike.

Classy shots

Yuvraj Singh played three drives that screamed class. With him the problem is what he does in between. Does he have the defence to keep good bowlers out on decent pitches? He didn't show he did during this stay. The pace, angle, and trajectory of the two balls that have splayed his stumps this series couldn't be more different. Yuvraj has managed to york himself both times.

Again his head careered to a position a body width outside the line as he lifted his back leg and allowed the ball through. Instead of driving down the ground, the angle that would have straightened his bat to Streak's over-the-wicket line, the left-hander tried to turn it fine. His 61-run partnership with Dravid had consumed 130 balls.

Further shock awaited India. The scoreboard hadn't the time to register a tick, when Dravid (98, 341m, 237b, 14x4) brought his bat down at an angle that encouraged ball to sneak through. It was the vice-captain's seventh dismissal in the 90s and his fifth in this mode this tour. Streak caught Dinesh Kaarthick during a confluence of conflicting thoughts — leave it or play it. The pressure on the Tamil Nadu youngster to keep M.S. Dhoni out increases.

Pathan showed why those in the know consider him a serious all-rounder contender. He left balls with an intimate knowledge of his off-stump and hooked and drove with authority before an excellent catch in the deep stopped him. Streak mopped up the rest.

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