Short of quality cricket in recent times, Zimbabwe will hope to turn on its best game against the young Indian team
There won’t be much of a crowd at Harare Sports Club when India takes the field on Wednesday (July 24), but the trickle of Zimbabwean fans, who do make it through the gates for the first One-Day International, will probably be grateful that the game is played in coloured clothing. The small but dedicated following here generally know their cricket, but there is little chance they could tell their Jaydev Unadkats from their Mohit Sharmas without the guidance of names on the back of shirts.
And who could blame them? If the squad picked for India’s last two one-day engagements felt like a brave step forward without a host of names who had developed worldwide recognition, the one picked for this series has a distinct feel of ‘new generation’ about it. Watching them overcome their travel weariness with a game of football on Monday (July 22) evening, there was a palpable feeling of freshness, and it was easy to see how Virat Kohli could be enthusiastic about such an eager crew.
“Of course if you have such big players going out of the team suddenly, you do feel a little weird initially, but I think it's all about how you pick it up and the guys have done a brilliant job,” Kohli, the captain for the five-match series, said on Tuesday (July 23). “Transition is never easy, but the guys have taken up responsibility. To see Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan stepping into the shoes of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag is not an easy task. They've batted beautifully for the last two months and that's been the main reason for our success.”
Kohli spoke about the excitement that “15 players can grow up together in international cricket”, and gave a nod to the Indian Premier League’s influence in exposing more young Indian players to the rigours of high-level cricket in high-pressure situations.
But first, he acknowledged that when a young Indian side travelled to Zimbabwe in 2010, it did not have things its own way. “Zimbabwe beat us the last time we came here, so we know we're going to get some tough competition from them,” he said. “They have some really talented players in their squad, so we won't take them lightly.”
It will take some effort for Zimbabwe to repeat its success of three years ago. Although it has made progress in that time, its rate of development has been stunted by the limited amount of quality cricket it has been afforded. Last year, it played a grand total of three ODIs. This year, it has played six. India has played ten since the start of June.
There are other discrepancies between the two sides, but what they do have in common are relatively settled batting line-ups. Zimbabwe will field the same top six who turned around a one-day series against Bangladesh two months ago, while Cheteshwar Pujara will be the only new addition to India’s triumphant side from the Caribbean, and will likely bat at No. 3. Elton Chigumbura and Ravindra Jadeja will perform all-round duties from the No. 7 berths.
It is the bowlers on each side who are likely to rotate a fair bit, with India giving some of its uncapped youngsters a first run-out, and Zimbabwe set to give Ray Price, the 37-year-old veteran, one final send-off. The much-loved spinner will draw deserved cheers from the stands; the task for India’s bowlers will be to dispel quizzical looks from the crowd and make a name for themselves.