Mohali: Laid low by the stunning Douglas Marillier blitzkrieg in Faridabad, the Indian think-tank was busy working out different counter moves ahead of the second match, a day-night encounter, on Sunday. With the blame only on Marillier and not on any Indians for losing the first of the five-match series, the host was expected to retain the same team. Even without two of its star batsmen Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, India was not expected to lose. But thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime knock from Marillier, Zimbabawe probably registered its most memorable win ever.
And that has certainly put its fortunes on the upswing for the remainder of the series. Zimbabwe captain Stuart Carlisle was already talking in terms of having gained a psychological advantage going into the second match. And not to leave anything to chance, Zimbabwe was seen practicing vigorously within hours of reaching Chandigarh on Friday afternoon. Marillier also spent a lot of time in the nets but did not practice his behind-the- wicket 'scoop' that took the match away from the Indians in Faridabad. The Indians were absent from the field on Friday preferring to take some rest. They were to scheduled to practice on Saturday morning, but postponed it to evening nets under lights.
Whether it resulted from the confidence in its abilities or general apathy would be known only tomorrow. India did well in Faridabad with V V S Laxman and Zaheer Khan being the two notable performers. Laxman, who has long been under attack for throwing away his wicket, produced a gem of a knock but it remains to be seen whether he is able to continue with his performance. He has been highly erratic recently and had to suffer the ignominy of being dropped not only from the One-day team against England but also from the second Test against Zimbabwe. His return to form, if the Faridabad innings was any indication, augurs very well for India and couldn't have come at better time. Same goes for Zaheer Khan too.
Making a comeback, the left-arm seamer did an admirable job in the first match though his figures were badly mutilated by the Marillier onslaught. India would most likely to continue with Dinesh Mongia as an opener with Saurav Ganguly though experiments cannot be ruled out if it bats second. Ganguly got another half-century in Faridabad and is looking in good touch. His first hundred in over two years in Test cricket must also have given him a lot of confidence and that is being reflected in his approach.
Mongia, who had an impressive One-day series against England, looked competent in his little knock of 25 in the first match but he requires a bigger innings to seal his place in the side. Another youngster, Mohammed Kaif, who too has been in and out of the Indian team, showed grit with the bat in the slog overs and his fielding was excellent. In fact, the team showed a marked improvement in the fielding department in Faridabad and this must continue especially since the Zimbabweans are excellent workers on the field.
Zimbabwe too had a lot of positives in the Faridabad match apart from Marillier who hogged all the limelight. The fact that both Andy Flower and Alistair Campbell, who had been at their best in the Test series, struck impressive half-centuries was lost in the Marillier blitzkrieg. But these are ominous signs for India especially the return of Andy Flower. After his wonderful match-winning knock, Marillier is sure to be promoted in the batting order.
The expectations are high from this youngster and here lie India's opportunities of putting pressure on him. Zimbabwe's problems probably lie in its bowling department, which lacks the depth. The return home of left-arm spinner Ray Price, who was undoubtedly the most impressive of Zimbabwean bowlers in the Test series, has further weakened the attack with only Heath Streak remaining as a viable strike bowler. This is one area it needs to tighten up.