Zimbabwe has impressed in recent times and will be no pushover as teams brace for first taste of changed ODI rules
After a disappointing tour of Bangladesh last month, a new-look Indian team will face off against Zimbabwe in the first game of a three-match One-Day International series on Friday (July 10) at the Harare Sports Club in Harare.
India lost the series to Bangladesh with a full-strength team, but the side led by Ajinkya Rahane for the Zimbabwe series does not have a majority of the first-choice picks. However, it does have a set of players who have been at, or near, the fringes of national selection and for whom this could be a make or break tour.
Robin Uthappa, who is expected to keep wickets in the absence of a specialist gloveman, will fancy sealing his spot as the second-choice ‘keeper behind MS Dhoni for the busy season ahead. Uthappa could also well find himself coming in at the top of the order. M Vijay, the other specialist opener in the side, has had tremendous success in Test cricket, but has the game and the shot-making ability to succeed in the one-day format too. Given the opportunity now, he will be eager to showcase his versatility across formats.
Rahane himself is on mission redemption of sorts. He was benched for the last two ODIs against Bangladesh, and will want to reclaim his spot in the starting XI by showing he can translate undoubted class into consistent performance too. The middle-order contestants – Ambati Rayudu, Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav and Manish Pandey – have all got the pedigree and domestic records to suggest one of them could be India’s go-to men in the first-choice squad.
The most experienced man in the squad is also on the comeback trail. Harbhajan Singh has 229 ODIs behind him, but the last of them came in June 2011. Harbhajan recently earned a recall to the Test side and did reasonably well in a rain-affected one-off Test against Bangladesh.
Zimbabwe, for its part, will also be cautiously optimistic. In 2013 too, India did not send a full-strength side, but ended up winning 5-0. However, that team had several established members and was led by Virat Kohli, who had already set stall as one of ODI cricket’s most charismatic batsmen. This time, Zimbabwe is coming on the back of a tour of Pakistan in which it stretched the home team in a majority of the matches, and an equally competitive 2015 World Cup in which it made the likes of India and South Africa dig deep to pull off wins.
Zimbabwe will be without Brendan Taylor, however, who retired from international cricket to pursue a career in county cricket. Taylor has been Zimbabwe’s best batsman in the last few years, and his absence will be tough to fill but even without him, Zimbabwe has what it takes to not just be competitive, but pull off an upset or two against an Indian team whose members will be finding their feet somewhat – given that they haven’t played regular international cricket and know that this series could be their only chance to shine.
Elton Chigumbura, the captain, and Sikandar Raza hit maiden international centuries against Pakistan, while the likes of Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams and Chamu Chibhabha are capable of big feats with the bat. Tinashe Panyangara will spearhead a useful, more than intimidating bowling attack.
India’s bowling will have more teeth, with Dhawal Kulkarni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar a canny new-ball pair, Stuart Binny bringing an all-round option and Harbhajan the nous to back it up.
This series will also be the first for both teams under the newly revised ICC rules, with no compulsory catchers required in the first 10 overs, no Batting Power Play and the freedom to have five fielders outside the circle in the last 10 overs.
As much as adapting their games to the opposition, both teams will also need to strategise for the new rules.
India: M Vijay, Robin Uthappa (wk), Ajinkya Rahane (capt), Ambati Rayudu, Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav, Stuart Binny, Harbhajan singh, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Mohit Sharma, Manish Pandey, Sandeep Sharma.
Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (capt), Sikandar Raza, Regis Chakabva (wk), Graeme Cremer, Neville Madziva, Chamunorwa Chibhabha, Hamilton Masakadza, Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Tinashe Panyangara, Vusimuzi Sibanda, Donald Tiripano, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller, Sean Williams.