Zimbabwe finally came to the batting party, courtesy a blitzkrieg from Elton Chigumbura, and then the death bowlers did a splendid job to stop MS Dhoni and his team in their tracks to grab a stunning win over India in the first T20 international at the Harare Sports Club.
The first innings was all about Chigumbura (54, 26b, 1x4, 7x6), who went six-crazy in the final overs to lift Zimbabwe to 170/6 in their 20 overs, their highest score of the tour so far, despite the previous three matches being 50-over games.
In reply, India stuttered a little through the chase, but Manish Pandey (48, 35b, 1x4, 3x6), looked like he was taking India to a comfortable win, before his wicket off the 18th over changed the chase completely.
Once Pandey fell, India still had plenty of work to do, but it looked like the away side were in control, considering MS Dhoni was at the crease. Axar Patel came in and relieved the pressure with a couple of big sixes to leave India needed eight from the final over. Easy enough, isn't it? Only as long as India did not lose unnecessary wickets, but that proved to be the case as Axar (18, 9b, 1x4, 2x6) holed out in the second ball of the final over, bowled by Neville Madziva, to leave India needing seven from four balls.
Dhoni could only take a single off the next ball, which meant the new batsman – debutant Rishi Dhawan – had to keep his nerve. The right-handed did not, letting go of a ball well outside off after shuffling to that side, before getting lucky with a wide call that never should have been. A single followed off the penultimate ball, leaving Dhoni needing a boundary for a win. The India skipper could hit the ball straight to deep point to send the Zimbabwe players, absolutely battered in the ODI series, into delirium.
Zimbabwe got off to the perfect start, picking up the T20I debutant KL Rahul, who had scored a hundred on ODI debut, off the first ball. Rahul tried to guide a normal enough ball just outside off stump from Donald Tiripano to third man to get off the mark, but the grip was too loose and with the ball hitting the inside half of the bat, it bounced onto the stumps.
Ambati Rayudu (19, 16b, 4x4) came in and smashed a couple of boundaries, before going for one too many to see his timber disturbed by Chamu Chibhabha, with Mandeep Singh (31, 27b, 5x4), like his opening partner Rahul, also on his T20I debut, also falling after getting a start, to the same bowler, to leave India on a tricky 53/3 in 7.4 overs.
Dhoni would have been tempted to come in just to calm the chase for India, but the skipper stuck to the normal batting order, sending in Kedar Jadhav to stitch together a partnership with Manish Pandey, probably to see what they are made of.
The two batsmen, quite experienced in the T20 game, did just that, putting on 37 runs together to set that base needed for the final assault. Even if the required run rate started to climb over the ten-run mark, the two knew that the longer they stayed, the better India's chances of getting to that 171. However, Jadhav's (19, 13b, 1x4, 1x6) wicket was unnecessary with again, another batsman throwing his wicket away, with a wild slog-attempt.
When Dhoni came in, India needed 81 off 46 balls, and Pandey, knowing that his captain likes to take some time to settle in, went for the big shots, targeting the Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer, who was smoked by the right-hander for two straight sixes.
Pandey and Dhoni put on 53 runs together in five overs, and when the former fell to a poor stroke in the 18th, it all went pear-shaped for India.
Earlier, showed promise in patches, before Chigumbura took over in style. Hamilton Masakadza gave Zimbabwe a quick start, scoring 25 from 15 balls (1x4, 3x6). Maskadaza, though, gifted his wicket to Jasprit Bumrah, after getting a top edge through to Dhoni while attempting a needless scoop shot.
Zimbabwe were then virtually two down as Richmond Mutumbami retired hurt after getting one on the ribs off Jaydev Unadkat. The home team, though, kept getting decent contributions from the middle order, with Malcolm Waller (30, 21b, 4x4) and Sikandar Raza (20, 18b, 2x4) spanking a few to set the game up for Chigumbura's assault.
It was a quite brilliant innings, because when Chigumbura came in, Zimbabwe had just lost two settled batsmen in Waller and Raza with that dreaded collapse of theirs looking likely. The former captain, though, had other ideas, and launched into anything that was pitched up, with most of those going well beyond the ropes.
Of the five India bowlers, Bumrah (4-1-24-2) and Axar Patel (4-0-18-1) only conceded 42 runs, with Rishi Dhawan (4-0-42-1), Unadkat (4-0-43-0) and Yuzvendra Chahal (4-0-38-1), the first two playing their first matches of the tour, having debuts to forget.