If not for Subhman Gill, Sikandar Raza would have pulled off a heist


Not only did Shubman Gill slam his maiden international hundred, he also made the most decisive fielding intervention of the third ODI, diving forward at long-on in the penultimate over of the game to hold on to the catch of fellow centurion Sikandar Raza. Before India scraped through by 13 runs, the Sialkot-born had all but single-handedly dragged Zimbabwe home in the chase of 290 from the brink of what had looked like another heavy defeat looming at 169 for 7.

In the company of No 9 Brad Evans, on his own surge after claiming 5/54, Raza, during his innings of 115 from 95 balls, had stunned the Indians with a late boundary barrage against the pacers after the spinners had bowled out.

Timing the ball with the touch of a man who had made consecutive ODI centuries against Bangladesh earlier this month, Raza would get the front leg out of the way, set up a firm base with the back leg and thump it down the ground or over extra cover. Two of those hits even cleared the substantial deep extra-cover boundary at Harare Sports Club.

India had benched Mohammed Siraj and Prasidh Krishna for the dead rubber, Avesh Khan was playing his first match of the series, and Deepak Chahar is liable to go for runs at the death.

For the 12 overs that the eighth-wicket stand lasted, India had no answers. Misfields and misjudgments appeared, so did angry words from the bowlers for the culpable fielders.

With just 17 needed off 13, Avesh having already conceded 16 in the 48th, Zimbabwe had to be favourites now. Even in the first ODI, Evans had stood firm amid India’s charge, and had stretched Zimbabwe’s innings from 110 for 8 to 189. But now, he went leg-before, missing a heave off Avesh. With 15 required after three quiet deliveries from the wily Shardul Thakur in the 49th, Raza couldn’t get hold of the slog and found Gill.

Just 79 from 10 overs

The pressure having switched sides, India rediscovered the yorker that had gone missing while Raza was hammering them; Avesh sealed the series 3-0, disturbing last man Victor Nyauchi’s stumps halfway into the last over. India had just escaped after taking only 79 off their last ten overs from a position of 210 for 2.

And even those came mostly because of Gill. Off the first delivery of the 48th over of the Indian innings, Gill slogged Nyauchi to the deep-midwicket boundary. It was the last of the 15 fours he hit, and the first one for which he had to resort to a slog. Despite constructing his innings through mostly orthodox strokes, he still got 130 from just 97 deliveries. A lovely mix of straight and cover drives, cuts and flicks from the 22-year old carried India to 289 for 8 after they had chosen to test their batsmen early morning against the new balls.

Zimbabwe lost all three tosses in the series, and had found themselves 31 for 4 in the first two ODIs after being asked to face the Indian pace attack first. Series already in the bag, KL Rahul changed his decision on Monday, and proceeded to add a calming 63 for the opening stand with Shikhar Dhawan.

Neither did the Zimbabwe seamers have the same discipline and bite as their Indian counterparts, nor was the pitch as much of a help as it had been in the first two games. And, of course, Dhawan and Rahul were of a different class when tackling the new balls.

Zimbabwe didn’t help themselves by dropping Dhawan on 17, but barring that reprieve, Dhawan was almost flawless early on. Wide line or full length was attacked, and anything tight was immediately left. The left-armer Richard Ngarava got one to straighten and bounce just outside off, but a watchful Dhawan hadn’t committed to anything apart from a step across, and was able to let it zip past. At times, Dhawan would jump down the track trying to disrupt the lengths, but watching the ball kick, would avoid having a swing and potentially getting into trouble.

Rahul’s aim of spending some time in the middle was foiled in the second ODI with an early leg-before while playing across the line, so he was a lot more circumspect to begin with. He’d be careful to not get the front pad too far across, and let go of a few scoring opportunities on the leg side by defending straighter. He hit only two boundaries, and both of them came after the first Powerplay.

But having patiently done all this work, Rahul went for a big cut on 30 to a Brad Evans delivery that moved in to cramp him and disturbed the bails off an inside-edge. A few overs later, Dhawan found a leading edge to Evans off his pads on 40 and the ball sailed straight to cover.

Sean Williams put down Ishan Kishan on 6 off his own bowling, and the latter and Gill out India on their way to a decent score with a 140-run partnership. Gill’s choice of not having a big initial shuffle in limited-overs lets him slam deliveries to the right of the sweeper, making it a very productive scoring area with only four deep fielders allowed in the middle overs.

Kishan, scratchy in the second ODI, nailed his charge-and-swing routine and slog-sweeps on way to a brisk 50 before a direct hit caught him short in the 43rd. No one apart from Gill could click thereafter, and India failed to get past 300.

At 82 for 1 in the 17th over, the Zimbabwe chase had built a promising platform, but the middle order was to come apart quickly against Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav on the same surface used for the first ODI. Once they were done, though, Raza turned the game on its head. The first two games quickly became tedious, but the third could have probably come only in the space this shrinking format provides.

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