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Rayudu ton helps India prevail in tense win

Chigumbura century carries Zimbabwe to doorstep of victory before it falls four runs short in first ODI

Rayudu ton helps India prevail in tense win - Cricket News
The result showed just how closely matched these two teams are, and few would bet against similarly edgy contests in the days to come.
Sweaty palms, hoarse throats and a hopping crowd in the lengthening shadows of a golden evening. These are the telltale signs of a competitive Zimbabwe team and they were all evident as Elton Chigumbura attempted to bludgeon his team to victory over an Indian unit lacking some big-name stars in the first One-Day International on Friday (July 10). On this occasion, however, the ingredients did not add up to a winning combination as India prevailed by four runs.

The result showed just how closely matched these two teams are, and few would bet against similarly edgy contests in the days to come. There was a century on either side, one for Chigumbura and one for Ambati Rayudu, and a few dashing cameos besides.

India escaped unscathed thanks largely to Rayudu’s unbeaten 124 and Stuart Binny’s 77, which hauled the side from 87 for 5 in the 25th over to 255 for 6 at the end of the innings. After reducing Zimbabwe to 160 for 6 in reply, it appeared as though the job was done, but Chigumbura refused to give up and took the game down to the final over. Bhuvneshwar Kumar needed to defend 10 from six balls, and then six from three. Chigumbura backed himself to connect with one of them, but Bhuvneshwar held his nerve and Zimbabwe finished on 251 for 7.

Zimbabwe’s efforts were aided by winning a toss that will prove useful throughout the series. Its seam attack found conditions helpful thanks to the 9am start, with plenty of lateral movement as well as some useful bounce. The ICC's new playing conditions did not require any catching fielders to be posted, but Chigumbura had as many as four behind the wicket in the opening 15 overs.

M Vijay found one of them when he edged Brian Vitori to second slip in the fourth over, while Ajinkya Rahane played a couple of strong punches down the ground before edging Donald Tiripano to first slip to depart for 34. When Manoj Tiwary was trapped lbw by Chamu Chibhabha, Robin Uthappa was run out for a duck and Kedar Jadhav was caught behind, and India had lost half the side.

Rayudu has fond memories of this ground, having scored an unbeaten fifty on debut two years ago, but the circumstances in the two games were vastly different. In 2013 he had Virat Kohli for company, with the then-captain stroking a classy century and guiding Rayudu on his way. This time Rayudu was the senior batsman, but he played the role with aplomb, absorbing what pressure the Zimbabwean bowlers were still able to apply before cashing in as the conditions eased.

At first there were picture-perfect straight drives past mid-on, then a couple of wristy flicks wide of midwicket, and the real flourish came only in the 45th over, when he sank to one knee and slog-swept Tinashe Panyangara over deep square-leg for six. That took Rayudu to 97, and the next ball disappeared to the midwicket boundary to bring up three figures and elicit an impassioned fist pump.

Binny had gone to his maiden one-day fifty earlier in the same over, with his muscular approach proving perfect for the dry surface. Even when Zimbabwe was able to post five outfielders in the final 10 overs, Binny easily found the gaps and twice went over them to take his strike-rate up to a run-a-ball by the time he edged one through to the ‘keeper. By that stage he had put on 160 with Rayudu - an Indian record for the sixth wicket in Zimbabwe.

In the circumstances, India’s total was around par and so there was a sense of expectation among a growing crowd asZimbabwe’s chase got underway. The energy pulsed with a few early boundaries, but dissipated as the home side found itself regularly pegged back. Bhuvneshwar struck first with an outswinger that saw Chibhabha pouched at second slip, but it was Binny who made the most important breakthrough when he ended a promising partnership between senior statesmen Vusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza - albeit with a short ball that Sibanda mis-hit to mid-on.

Harbhajan Singh was Rahane’s go-to bowler, brought on in the 11th over with Sibanda and Masakadza settling, and his initial spell of none for 24 in six overs eased the required rate above a run-a-ball. The pressure on the home side only grew as Masakadza was done in by an Axar Patel delivery that gripped the surface, and Sean Williams was bowled through the gate by an even better delivery from the left-arm spinner.

That brought together Chigumbura and Sikandar Raza Butt - both of whom scored maiden centuries in Pakistan - and they sparked hope with a brisk stand that took Zimbabwe to 142 for 4 in the 33rd over. But when Raza pulled a Harbhajan long-hop to deep midwicket to depart for 37, only a Chigumbura special was capable of carrying Zimbabwe to victory.

A few cracks of the bat got the Castle Corner crowd bouncing once more, and suddenly India's bowlers began to miss their lengths. Chigumbura went to three figures for the second time in as many innings - a remarkable result given that his previous 173 games since his 2004 debut had not yielded a century. But as with his 117 in Pakistan in May, this was not enough to take his team over the line.

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