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India save face, pip Zimbabwe by three runs

India thwarted a stunning batting display by underdogs Zimbabwe to pull off a dramatic three-run win.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2004 21:56 IST

India thwarted a stunning batting display by underdogs Zimbabwe to pull off a dramatic three-run victory in a nerve-wracking one-day match on Saturday and assure themselves a berth in the tri-series finals.

After posting a healthy 280 for seven, riding on VVS Laxman's career-best 131, the Indians stalled Zimbabwe's push for their maiden victory in the series in the final over of the day-night encounter.

Stuart Carlisle (109) and Sean Ervine (100) effected a major turnaround with a century each to drive Zimbabwe closer to the target. But needing nine runs from the final over, they ran out of steam to finish at 277 for six.

The last over bowled by Sanjay Bangar had all the trappings of a thriller and unlike the previous match when India faltered at the death, the medium-pacer ensured his team the right result by taking a wicket while giving away just five runs.

The victory propelled India to 23 points and a place in the best-of-three finals. Zimbabwe were languishing at the bottom with just two points from five outings. Australia also have 23 points but they have played five matches, one less than India.

Zimbabwe started off in a fashion similar to India, who had won the toss and elected to bat, losing three of their top-order batsmen cheaply and then consolidating by virtue of brilliant individual knocks.

The heroes for the African minnows were Carlisle and Ervine who stitched the best ever partnership for any wicket against any side by putting on 202 runs off just 206 balls for the fourth wicket.

Pacing their innings beautifully, Zimbabwe were cruising along comfortably at 248 for three till the 46th over owing to some inept bowling by the Indians.

But India made up for the non-impressive show with the ball by some outstanding catches -- two of them by man-of- the-match VVS Laxman and another by fast bowler L Balaji off his own bowling.

For the Indians, the turnaround came when a horrible mix-up between Carlisle and Ervine saw the latter sacrifice his wicket and being run out in the 46th over.

Ervine's run-a-ball 100 included nine fours and a huge six off left-arm spinner Murali Kartik who had a particularly bad day in offfice with figures of 7-0-49-0.

Two overs later new-ball bowler Ajit Agarkar, who had taken two wickets in an impressive first spell, removed Carlisle by having him caught by Kartik for a 128-ball 109 which included nine fours.
It was a crucial wicket as Carlisle had clobbered the bowler for two fours in the same over and looked in dangerous form.

The penultimate over by Balaji again tilted the balance in Zimbabwe's favour as they extracted 11 runs from it, thanks to an audacious four by Andy Blignaut.

But Bangar ensured Zimbabwe were denied the required nine runs for victory and also made up for the duck he made opening the innings.

Zimbabwe were off to a horror start themselves when Agarkar picked up two wickets and Balaji grabbed an outstanding catch in his follow through.

Agarkar first removed Grant Flower (10) through a catch by wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel and then had Travis Friend (0) caught brilliantly by VVS Laxman who dived to his right to pluck a one-handed catch.

Balaji then took an outstanding return catch of opener Vusi Sibanda (12) to have Zimbabwe reeling at 46 for 3.

Carlisle and Ervine steadily built up their stand but the win was far from their minds till the 30th over when the score read 144 for 3.

The partnership then picked up the tempo as they took their side to 205 for 3 at the end of the 40th over, requiring 76 from the final 10 overs.

Indians were presented with a chance but Bangar dropped a return catch off Carlisle at the total 232 for 3 with the batsman on 95 in the 42nd over.

Ervine reached his maiden ODI hundred when he paddled sweep Balaji over short fine leg facing only 99 balls and hitting nine fours and a six.

Carlisle followed suit with his own hundred, needing 120 balls for it and hitting seven fours.

Earlier, Laxman continued to thrive in his golden summer as he cracked his second century on the trot and the third of the series to pilot India to 280 for 7.

Laxman shared two successive century stands with Rahul Dravid (56, 72b, 4x4) and Rohan Gavaskar (54, 62b, 3x4, 1x6) for the fourth and fifth wicket as a disastrous start was completed turned around by the Indians.

India were 4 for 3 in the fourth over when Laxman and Dravid came together and put on 133 runs from 142 balls for the fourth wicket, followed by 118 runs from as many deliveries for the fifth with Gavaskar.

Laxman, following on his unbeaten knocks of 103 and 106 against Australia at Gabba and at SCG on Sunday and Thursday, scored his runs from 138 balls with 13 fours and a six to take his tally on the tour to 875 runs.

With at least four one-day innings remaining, he has given himself more than a fair chance to cross 1,000 from Tests and one-dayers combined in this Australian summer.

The Indian score was all the more remarkable as not only were they without batting stars Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, they also were missing the ebullient Yuvraj Singh because of a side strain he sustained while fielding in the game against Australia at SCG on Thursday.

Bangar opened the innings but lasted only three balls as he edged a drive off Streak into the slips.

Parthiv Patel (0) did no better as he was caught behind the stumps to give Streak his second wicket of the innings.

Ganguly (1), who demoted himself down the order to bolster a lean middle order, mistimed his pull off Heath Streak to be caught at square leg.

Scorecard

First Published: Jan 24, 2004 09:10 IST