Yuvraj Singh carved a fine century of controlled aggression to help India avoid
the blushes and overcome a gritty challenge by Zimbabwe for a four-wicket victory in the Videocon Cup today.
Zimbabwe performed with grit to put up a healthy total of 250 and made early dents in the rival batting but their bowling proved inadequate as the Indians overhauled the target comfortably in the final round-robin match.
Yuvraj extended his good form to post his second century of the season with a composed 120 that led the Indian recovery after the side had slipped to 91 for five at one stage at the Harare Sports Club.
The Punjab left hander, who had posted a hundred in the tri-series in Sri Lanka last month, also crossed the 3,000 mark when he was on 36. In all, he faced 124 balls and hit 12 fours and a six.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni proved he can bat with a calm head too as he lent support to Yuvraj with an unbeaten 67 off 63 balls and notched up the winning runs with his third six of his innings off Blessing Mahwire.
The hosts were under pressure to perform, notwithstanding the fact that it was an inconsequential match since India and New Zealand had already qualified for the final on Tuesday. The players were locked in a contract dispute with their administrators and they played with guts to prove their worth.
Skipper Tatenda Taibu led from the front with a 97-ball 71 while Charles Coventry top scored with 74 with seven fours and three sixes.
Yuvraj shared a 158-run sixth wicket stand from 140 balls with Dhoni, the best sixth wicket stand ever for India in one-day internationals. The easy finish provided little idea of how difficult it was for the Indians who reeled at 38 for 4 and then were down to 91 for 5 in the 25th over.
Some sprightly fielding and purposeful bowling from the Zimbabweans had sent Virender Sehwag (12), Saurav Ganguly (2), Rahul Dravid (6) and Mohammad Kaif (8) packing to the pavilion in no time.
Sehwag and Dravid were out bowled; Kaif had a leg before wicket appeal held against him and Ganguly was snapped up with an astonishing leap by Vusi Sibanda at point region.
Super sub Venugopal Rao (27) looked to provide support to Yuvraj before the spinners flustered him to the extent that he ran himself out.
From then on, it was a Yuvraj and Dhoni show. They batted with tremendous common sense and initially built up the base with singles before opening their shoulders for thunderous shots.
Zimbabwe had an opportunity coming their way when Dhoni could have been stumped off left-arm spinner Sean Williams on 22 at 140 for 5 but Taibu fumbled behind the stumps.
The door was then shut firmly on Zimbabwe as Yuvraj and Dhoni reached their individual milestones in the final moments of the match.
Earlier, Zimbabwe produced their best with the bat in the tri-series by scoring 250 in exactly 50 overs. Taibu was at the forefront of this revival as he put on 116 runs for the fourth wicket from 137 balls with Coventry (74 from 99 balls) for Zimbabwe's best moment yet of the series.
Later, Andy Blignaut once again weighed in with a meaty knock of 41 from 26 balls with six fours and one six.
The Zimbabwe team, battling the contracts row, couldn't have made a better riposte at their board but for early setbacks they batted confidently through the length of the stipulated overs.
India, choosing to bring in two new bowlers in Rudra Pratap Singh and Murali Kartik in place of regulars Irfan Pathan and Ashish Nehra, seemed to have made the right decision to field when Singh took two wickets in only his second over in international cricket.
First, his shout for leg before wicket against opener Sibanda was upheld by umpire Russel Tiffin after some deliberation. Then off the last ball of his over, Hamilton Masakdza's defensive push ballooned up a catch to the left side of the pitch and caught by Singh himself.
India got their third success through the brilliance of Yuvraj who, like his act against New Zealand on Friday, intercepted a steer at point and connected a direct hit which removed opener Brendon Taylor (26) from the middle. Taibu and Coventry then took the centrestage and went about carting the bowling to all parts of the ground.
Taibu smashed Harbhajan Singh for a straight six and then smote JP Yadav over midwicket as he raced to his half century in the 25th over at the total 108 for 3.
He was completely contemptuous of Ganguly when he brought himself on to attack, smashing the Indian captain for a string of fours and 15 runs in his first over.
The pair also savaged left-arm spinner Kartik and Yadav who conceded 52 and 44 runs from nine overs each.
Taibu finally departed at 166 for 4 when he couldn't connect a pull off a short delivery from Yadav. His 71 took him 97 balls and contained five fours and two sixes.
Coventry reached his half-century soon thereafter when he steered Kartik to the offside for a single in the 38th over at the total 167 for 4. He soon hoisted the 200 of the innings with a straight six off Ajit Agarkar in the 42nd over.
But it was Agarkar who accounted for him in the 45th over, Coventry holing out at long-on after making 74 from 99 balls with seven fours and three sixes.
Blignaut fell in the next over after smashing six fours and a six in his blistering knock and putting on 61 runs from 46 balls with Coventry for the fifth wicket.