Zimbabwe seemed down and out after losing the three-match One-Day International series 3-0. More than the results, it was the magnitude of the defeats that made everyone write Zimbabwe off for the three T20Is.
But a change in format brought with it a change in fortunes as the hosts bounced back in style in a thrilling two-run win in the first T20I in Harare on Saturday (June 18). One more such inspired performance on Monday in the second game and Zimbabwe will have a series win that looked unlikely till so recently.
There’s no doubt that Zimbabwe benefited from the brevity of the format. With India playing a second-string team filled with five debutants in the first game, the playing field was more level, and Zimbabwe was quick to pounce and catch the visitors unaware.
Little contributions count for a lot in T20s and Zimbabwe had plenty of them through the first game. Elton Chigumbura rightly grabbed the headlines for his brilliant 26-ball 54 but nearly every other batsman played his part too, helping it post a competitive total of 170.
And then, just like their batsmen, the bowlers too put on a combined show to keep India to 168 for 6 in 20 overs. Taurai Muzarabani and Chamu Chibhabha got two wickets each while Nevill Madziva sealed the win in the final over where he defended eight runs bowling to MS Dhoni and Co.
One concern for Zimbabwe ahead of the crucial second game is injuries. Richmond Mutumbami had to be helped off the field after being hit on the ribs by a Jaydev Unadkat short ball, adding to an injury list that already has Vusi Sibanda, Sean Williams, Craig Ervine and Malcolm Waller.
The Zimbabwe players and their fans would be bouncing with joy at the prospect of a series win but it won’t be easy, as India is sure to try and hit back after a defeat that Dhoni put down to inexperience.
“Not only in the last few overs, also right from the start the way we lost wickets, the kind of shots that were played, were they needed at that point of time? What happens is if the batsmen don’t have a lot of experience playing under conditions like this, they might commit an error,” said the Indian captain after the game.
The consequence of the result, though, is that India is likely to go back to their first-choice XI from the squad it has. While Dhoni called for batsmen to take more responsibility, he also hinted that India is going to strengthen its bowling attack. Dhawal Kulkarni and Barinder Sran are likely to return while Jayant Yadav, the offspinner, could get a game as well.
The bright spot for India from Saturday’s game was that all its batsmen got a chance to bat – something that didn’t happen in the ODIs where India lost only three wickets in total in as many matches. The young lineup failed to handle the pressure of a chase but all batsmen, barring KL Rahul who fell for a first-ball duck, got starts. Now to convert them into something bigger and build a case for their own futures.
Zimbabwe: Graeme Cremer (capt), Sikandar Raza, Brian Chari, Tendai Chatara, Chamu Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Neville Madziva, Timycen Maruma, Hamilton Masakadza, Wellington Masakadza, Peter Moor, Tapiwa Mufudza, Tinotenda Mutombodzi, Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Taurai Muzarabani, Vusi Sibanda, Donald Tiripano, Malcolm Waller.
India: MS 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, Barinder Sran.