India’s impressive young guns aim to seal series; onus on host to lift itself in must-win game
It was India’s motley crew of youngsters who came through quite comfortably in the series-opener against Zimbabwe in Harare on Saturday (June 11). It was billed as a clash between India’s fringe players and Zimbabwe’s best, and by that measure, it was evident just how wide the gap between the two sides really is.
Zimbabwe is already fighting to stay alive in this three-match One-Day International series. It heads in to the second ODI on Monday at the Harare Sports Club desperately needing a victory, but armed with nothing more than first-hand experience of how this Indian side functions.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the sole veteran in this side, would be quite happy with how his colts fared in the opening outing. With three debutants in the XI, India won by nine wickets on a tricky surface, completing a seemingly easy chase of 169 in 42.3 overs. The bowlers set it up, Jasprit Bumrah returning his best ODI figures of 4 for 28 and Yuzvendra Chahal, the debutant leggie, impressing with tidy bowling.
Then, KL Rahul, on ODI debut, propelled the chase with a fine century, bringing up the landmark in style with the six which also sealed the victory. Try hard as the Zimbabwe bowlers did, they couldn’t penetrate the second-wicket stand between Rahul and Ambati Rayudu (62 not out), an unbroken association of 162. Karun Nair, the other debutant, failed to make a mark, but as series-openers went, it was as comfortable a win as can be hoped for.
It wasn’t all hunky-dory, though. There were fielding lapses including regulation drops that frustrated Dhoni, and for Bumrah, the front-foot no-ball remained an issue. It even cost him a wicket.
The focus for India will be to improve on those aspects. This is a side filled with players hoping to make a mark, having been given a rare opportunity to impress at the international level, and the thirst would only have increased after the taste of victory.
Rahul said as much. “We've got an opportunity and we're all very happy and excited to come out here and learn a lot about going out there and doing well in international cricket and understand what is different from our first-class cricket,” the only Indian to make an ODI ton on debut said. “Obviously, MS Dhoni being here gives us a great chance to talk to him and improve ourselves and get his feedback about what we need to do individually. We've come out here to express ourselves. All of us have performed really, really well in the last couple of months in IPL, so we all come into this tournament with a lot of confidence. We just want to go out there and play aggressive cricket and stick to what we've been doing.”
As for Zimbabwe, there were some positives. There were partnerships in the middle order that can be improved upon, with Elton Chigumbura (41), Craig Ervine (21) and Sikander Raza (23) all putting on brief stands, thwarting the Indian bowlers’ attempt to run through the line-up. Had it rotated strike in the middle overs, Zimbabwe might even have managed to post a total with a more realistic hope of defending it. Despite that, the bowlers claimed the early wicket of Karun and didn’t let the Indian batsmen shoot off the blocks.
“There's a lot to work with,” admitted Lance Klusener, the batting coach. “It's a matter of making sure that we find a balance of how everybody fits in and how we want to play. There's no doubting the talent there. It's just a matter of finding a game plan and a niche for everybody to fit in and how they want to play. We might just have to feel our way into the next week or so but I am sure we will settle in as soon as we can. It is about winning cricket games, and from the team’s point of view, we're not very happy with the way we've played.”
Zimbabwe will have to be more battle-ready on Monday, because it’s make or break this time around. And the host will also hope Graeme Cremer wins the toss, because batting first is not an easy proposition given the 9.00 am local time start.
Zimbabwe: Graeme Cremer (capt), Tendai Chatara, Chamu Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Tendai Chisoro, Craig Ervine, Neville Madziva, Timycen Maruma, Hamilton Masakadza, Wellington Masakadza, Peter Moor, Twanada Mupariwa, Richard Mutumbami (wk), Taurai Muzarabani, Vusimuzi Sibanda, Sikandar Raza, Donald Tiripano, Sean Williams.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), KL Rahul, Faiz Fazal, Manish Pandey, Karun Nair, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, Mandeep Singh, Rishi Dhawan, Jasprit Bumrah, Jayant Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jaydev Unadkat, Dhawal Kulkarni, Axar Patel.