Indian cricketers faced no problem in scoring a straightforward 54-run win against host Zimbabwe at Harare in the first T-20 game of their tour. The script was familiar; pile up a good total and spin the opposition out. Apart from the big victory margin, the match was highlighted by a sumptuous spattering of first-time players on both sides. As many as 5 Indians and 2 Zimbabweans made their debut in the match. For India, Stuart Binny, Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, Axar Patel and Sandeep Sharma donned the T-20 caps for the first time while Neville Madziva and Taurai Muzarabani debuted for Zimbabwe. India’s top order performed admirably after Ajinkya Rahane won the toss and opted to bat first. The first and third-wicket stands were fruitful as India finished with 178/5 in 20 overs. Although Zimbabwe responded with a fine opening stand of 55 runs, they were in trouble, when Rahane brought his spinners. 55/0 became 98/7 in less than 10 overs. The consequent drop in the scoring rate was manifest in Zimbabwe losing their grip on the match. Axar Patel had a great debut with 3/17 in his four overs while veteran Harbhajan Singh claimed 2/29. Since there were two run-outs in the Zimbabwe innings, every Zimbabwe wicket that fell went to the two spinners.
After winning the toss, Ajinkya Rahane came with Murali Vijay to open for India and the two of them put on 64 runs in 7 overs. But India lost Vijay at the end of 7 overs, when the batsman failed to gain his ground even as a direct throw by Sikandar Raza shattered his stumps at the bowlers end. In the 10th over, Rahane also departed, falling prey to Cremer’s excellent flight to the ball that induced a leading edge to the point fielder. However, Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey took charge and added 45 runs for the third wicket. Pandey fell in the 16th over but Uthappa carried his bat through and helped by small contributions from Kedar Jadhav, Stuart Binny and Harbhajan Singh India reached 178/5 in 20 overs with the last 10 accounting for 96. Uthappa remained unbeaten on 39 off 35 balls. A sizeable number of 25 runs were also contained in India’s score that included 13 wides.
In chasing 179 for victory, Zimbabwe began quite well with openers Hamilton Masakadza and Chamu Chibhabha piling up an opening stand of 55 in 8.1 overs. However, Chibhabha dismissal by Harbhajan Singh opened the floodgates. It was a great diving catch by Manish Pandey, who covered a lot of distance from long-on before holding the skier. In the course of next two overs, Zimbabwe lost three more wickets, two of which were bagged by the debutant Axar Patel in the 10th over. With his second ball, Patel first dismissed Masakadza, whose attempted sweep jumped to the fine-leg fielder. Off the last ball of the 10th over, Patel bowled skipper Elton Chigumbura with an arm ball. In the 11th over, Harbhajan removed Charles Coventry and Zimbabwe reeled at 68/4. Except the last wicket stand of 26 runs between Prosper Utseya and Neville Madziva, Zimbabwe couldn’t attempt any recovery. In the end they lost by a wide margin of 54 runs to help India take a 1-0 lead in the 2-match T-20 series.
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