As the shadows lengthened over the Harare Sports Club in the dying moments of the first Twenty20 International between Zimbabwe and India on Saturday, there was a different feel in the air. The depressing silence that had been a companion to Zimbabwe’s abject surrender in the ODI series had dissipated, and in its place was a glimmer of hope.

At the Castle Corner stands where a few Zimbabwe fans had put up angry banners decrying their team’s performance during that ODI series, there was first expectation, then tension and finally joy. They danced and jumped and whooped. When Mahendra Singh Dhoni could only take a single to deep point off the last ball from Neville Madziva, they erupted. The singing and the chants began as their players rushed to the stands, tugged at the Zimbabwe logo on their jersey and celebrated along with the long-suffering fans.

It was just one victory, that too in a Twenty20 against a second-string (some would even argue, third-string) Indian side. But did it really matter? For one day, Zimbabwe cricket could bask in the glow of victory.

We finally have a competition

But it wasn’t just Zimbabwe fans who celebrated. Even Indian cricket fans, sick and tired of the monotony of the last three ODIs, could not help but enjoy the celebrations. Finally, there was a game to savour. And even if it was India who were on the receiving end, no one really minded.

But when the match started, it looked like it would follow the script of the ODI series. Zimbabwe got off to a decent start and then struggled. Richmond Mutumbami received a blow on his right hip from a delivery by Jaydev Unadkat and left the field. From 97/2, they collapsed to 111/5 and it looked like they would capitulate yet again.

Elton Chigumbura, however, had other ideas. His average might be a lowly 21 but in Twenty20, it’s all about how well you can swing it. And swing it he did, his 54 off 26 balls containing seven towering sixes as Zimbabwe found late momentum to put up 170/6 on the board, an extremely respectable total.

The Finisher unfinished

India’s chase was punctuated by regular wickets, but they kept in touch with the asking run rate. Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked in with 81 required off 46 balls. Manish Pandey and he shepherded the next phase of the chase perfectly, reducing the target to 29 off 18 balls. Pandey lost his wicket but with eight runs required off the last six balls and the Indian captain at the crease, it looked like the “Finisher” would finish it yet again.

But it didn’t happen, even after a shocking wide call from the umpire on what should have been the penultimate delivery. Dhoni couldn’t get the last ball away for the boundary required. And while some Indian fans found solace in Zimbabwe's triumph, there were quite a few who turned on the Indian captain.

The discussions can go on and on about whether Dhoni should have played the way he did, but at the end, did it matter? The sight of a pumped-up Neville Madziva wrenching the stump out of the pitch after the last ball and rushing over to celebrate, and the dancing that broke out in the Castle Corner, was worth it. India had lost, but cricket had a cause to celebrate.