Zimbabwe found themselves on 260/6 at the close of play of the first day of the second Test, a situation that may have seemed a letdown during a prolific partnership between Andy Flower and Dion Ebrahim but one that they would have settled for when they started batting on a pitch holding much promise of degeneration.
The highlight of the day was a brilliant knock of 92 from Zimbabwe's most reliable scorer - Flower - at a ground where, before this Test, he averaged more than 200 - the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi. Ebrahim, at the end of the day, was still fighting on with a hard-earned knock of 82; giving him company was Travis Friend on seven.
Earlier in the morning, the big news was that of VVS Laxman being dropped in favour of Virender Sehwag. Zimbabwe too made one change: Ebrahim coming in for Gavin Rennie. Stuart Carlisle won the toss and did not hesitate to bat first on a track that has cracks running the length of it. The Zimbabwe skipper himself did not have much luck though; Javagal Srinath bowled him for a duck off the fourth ball of the morning.
The other opening batsman, Trevor Gripper (8), was out-thought by Zaheer Khan. After letting the batsman pull a short-pitched ball for four, he followed up with one that seamed away, and Gripper duly nicked it through to Rahul Dravid at first slip.
Zimbabwe were in dire straits at the time with just 11 runs on the board and two wickets down. The old firm of Flower and Alistair Campbell then proceeded to add 54 runs for the third wicket, steadying the boat against some purposeful bowling by Zaheer Khan and Srinath.
Campbell (15) was caught by Rahul Dravid off the bowling of Zaheer Khan, brought on to bowl his second spell half an hour before lunch by skipper Sourav Ganguly. Ebrahim then joined Andy Flower, and the two batsmen went about repairing the faltering Zimbabwean innings.
Flower, contrary to his displays in Nagpur, seemed in wonderful touch, striking the ball cleanly to all parts of the field. Going into this Test, Flower had an average of 104.60 against India. The more interesting statistic, though, was his record at the Feroz Shah Kotla. In four innings here before the start of this Test, Flower had scores of 115, 62*, 183* and 70, averaging a whopping 215.
Today again he looked like getting to yet another century as he smashed 15 boundaries and a massive six over mid-wicket off Anil Kumble before falling eight runs short of the three-figure mark. He was caught bat-pad at forward short leg by Shiv Sunder das off the bowling of Harbhajan Singh after making 92 runs off 154 balls.
The fourth-wicket partnership between Andy Flower and Ebrahim yielded 116 valuable runs. Grant Flower replaced his brother in the middle and had an early reprieve; Deep Dasgupta missed an easy chance, letting the ball go right between his legs after the younger Flower had edged a `doosra' from Harbhajan Singh.
Dasgupta, in fact, had a disastrous day in the field, and it would be very difficult for this youngster to keep his place in the team as a wicket-keeper. Both Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh were palpably frustrated by Dasgupta's dismal glove-work.
Grant Flower had made 30 runs and added 65 runs for the fifth wicket with Ebrahim before he was run out by a direct hit from Kumble. Flower sacrificed his wicket after Ebrahim called for a needless run; Kumble, fielding off his own bowling, had all three stumps to aim at, and he did not miss, throwing down the stumps at the striker's end.
Heath Streak came in to bat and immediately dragged a ball from Kumble onto his stumps without even opening his account. The dismissal of the former Zimbabwe skipper left the visitors in trouble at 246/6. Friend, as he showed at Nagpur, is no mug with the bat, and he played on bravely against the double spin attack of Kumble and Harbhajan Singh to remain unbeaten on seven off 38 balls.
Zimbabwe will look to Ebrahim to carry on the good work tomorrow to put up a decent first-innings score. The hard-working diminutive batsman is unbeaten on 82 off 183 balls and has so far struck nine boundaries. Ebrahim has looked at ease especially against the spinners, using his feet to good effect.
As for India, Zaheer Khan was easily the pick of the bowlers with the figures of 15-3-44-2. Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Srinath picked up one wicket each on a track that is breaking up even on the first day.
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