Harare, July 17: Young Axar Patel and Harbhajan Singh gave an impressive display of spin bowling as India relied on an all-round display to trounce a hapless Zimbabwe by 54 runs in the first T20 International match here today.
Patel (3/17) and Harbhajan (2/29) ripped through the Zimbabwe batting order as the home side ended at 124/7 while chasing a target of 179 on a slow track at Harare Sports Club to give India a 1-0 lead in the two-match T20I series.
The 21-year-old left-arm spinner Patel, one of the five Indians who made T20 International debut today, and veteran off-spinner Harbhajan virtually ended the match midway into Zimbabwe run chase with quick strikes that left the home side in total disarray.
Earlier, India's top three batsmen of captain Ajinkya Rahane (33), Murali Vijay (34) and Robin Uthappa (39 not out) fired in unison to help the visiting side post a commanding 178 for 5 after electing to bat. The Zimbabweans also helped India's cause as they conceded 25 runs as extras.
Zimbabwe struggle in run chase
Chasing the stiff target, Zimbabwe struggled for runs with the Indians bowling a tight line and length with pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar opening the bowling in impressive manner by giving just four runs in his first spell of two overs.
After showing some promise, the Zimbabweans just fizzled out as they failed to negotiate the guiles of Patel and Harbhajan.
Chamu Chibhabha (23) was the first to go in the ninth over off the bowling of Harbhajan who snapped the opening stand of 55. Chibhabha went for a big shot but failed to beat
Manish Pandey near the boundary ropes.
Next over, Patel dismissed two Zimbabwe batsmen in the space of five balls to send the home side run chase into disarray. While Hamilton Masakadza (28) was caught at short
fine leg by Kedar Jadhav, captain Elton Chigumbura (1) was clean-bowled off a gem of delivery from Patel.
Harbhajan gets Coventry
Harbhajan returned to dismiss another Zimbabwe batsman - Charles Coventry (10) - in the 11th over to virtually end Zimbabwe's run chase. By then, the home side had been reduced to 68/4 with the asking rate soaring above 14 an over.
Patel removed Sikandar Raza (10) in the 16th over to claim his third wicket pacer while Sandeep Sharma, who made his international debut today, grabbed his first wicket by dismissing Graeme Cremer in the 18th over. The other wicket-taker for India was Mohit Sharma (1/8).
Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav and Stuart Binny were the other three Indian players who were making their T20 International debut.
The two sides now play their second T20 International match on Sunday at the same venue.
Uthappa top-scores with 39 not out
Uthappa, who struggled during the ODI series played before these T20 matches, batted sensibly and held the innings together after coming one down in the seventh over after India elected to bat.
He shared 45 runs for the third wicket with Manish Pandey (19) to accelerate the Indian innings towards the end after openers Ajinkya Rahane (33) and Murali Vijay (34) gave a good start at the top. Uthappa hit just two fours in his 35-ball innings.
The Indians made a strong start with captain Rahane and Vijay stitching 64 runs for the opening wicket in seven overs. The duo were scoring runs with ease and at a brisk pace before a run out snapped their partnership.
Vijay, who was shaping up to play a big innings, fell short of reaching his crease as a brilliant throw from Sikandar Raza from midwicket hit the stumps. Vijay hit five fours and a six in his aggressive 19-ball innings.
Slow bowlers shine
Rahane did not take any risk, scoring in singles and twos and rotating strikes before he was out in the 10th over off a fine delivery from leg-spinner Graeme Cremer.
The ball drew Rahane onto the front foot and turned a bit to take the edge of his bat before looping to point fielder Masakadza for an easy catch. India were 82/2 at Rahane's departure. Rahane faced 32 balls and hit two fours.
Zimbabwe slow bowlers then put brakes on the Indian scoring rate with Cremer (1/20 from his four overs) playing the lead role. The Indians could score just 31 runs in five overs from the 10th to 14th over.
It was then left to Pandey and Uthappa to push the Indian score up. While Pandey could not make a substantial contribution by getting out in the 16th over after scoring a run-a-ball 19, Uthappa made his presence felt with an unbeaten innings.
For Zimbabwe, pacer Chris Mpofu grabbed three wickets for 33 runs from his four overs while Cremer got one.