A second India tour of Zimbabwe in as many years. The last, and only, time that happened was in 1997 and 1998. When Sachin Tendlkar and Henry Olonga were still a thing, Andy Flower would reverse sweep first, ask questions later and Anil Kumble would fume. By Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
In essence, there was competition between the two teams. Palpable competition.
Zimbabwe would be hopeful of rekindling that on Saturday considering India have left their biggest match-winners behind to make room for new ones to develop. A similar outlook towards a Bangladesh tour left India vulnerable on seaming pitches in 2014; the next year Bangladesh beat a full-strength Indian side 2-1. Imagine the weight it would lend to Graeme Cremer’s prospects of becoming permanent captain if his team can topple MS Dhoni’s.
That’s a big if, though. The touring party may be fairly new to international cricket but together, they comprise the range of skills needed in limited-overs cricket. Manish Pandey has won an IPL final off his own bat. Karun Nair uses the straight drive just as well as he does the reverse sweep. Yuzvendra Chahal’s legspin isn’t traditional – he doesn’t toss the ball up and as such doesn’t get it to turn too much – but his flatter trajectory has worked for him in List A and T20 cricket.
Zimbabwe, on the other hand, have picked a full-strength squad but they possibly need to do better at flexing their muscles. The batting can hold its own with Hamilton Masakadza at the top, Sean Williams and Craig Ervine to control the middle while Elton Chigumbura along with Sikandar Raza can be depended to provide a suitably breakneck finish. Their problem is the bowling, especially against a batsman who can go on a rampage as was evident against Afghanistan and an unstoppable Mohammad Shahzad.
Zimbabwe LWWLL (last five matches, most recent first)
Watch out for
For someone who does so little with his non-bowling hand, Tendai Chatara can generate considerable pace. While that isn’t a guarantee for picking up wickets, it’s a good place to start as he showed in the Harare Test against Pakistan in 2013. He dismissed Azhar Ali, a batsman who beds in at the crease like it was made of wet cement, for a duck and struck the first blow in his second over on the final morning. Essentially, he took the wickets the team needed at a time when they needed it most and he’ll have to take on that responsibility again.
In contrast, India’s quickest bowler hasn’t played Tests yet. But with a bumper home season set for 2016-17 and if Jasprit Bumrah continues his limited-overs form, that may change. Much has been said about the accuracy of his yorkers, but Bumrah does have the ability to straighten the ball down the line and a tendency to gather pace off the pitch and surprise batsmen. Skills like that are important to a captain, especially when he wants to put a roadbock in front of an opposition running away with the game.
The experimental squad that India have picked makes it seem like any of the 16 could make the XI. Faiz Fazal, more than a decade after making his debut in domestic cricket, may win his first India cap as opener unless India consider Mandeep Singh a more worthwhile investment considering his youth and aggressive strokeplay. Chahal is another player eying his international debut, and his wristspin could put him ahead of Jayant Yadav, who relies on finger spin. Kedar Jadhav made a century the last time he was in Zimbabwe and could make a strong case for a middle-order spot, while Test specialist KL Rahul will want to prove he can be a viable option in one-day cricket too.
India (probable) 1 KL Rahul, 2 Mandeep Singh/ Faiz Fazal, 3 Karun Nair, 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Ambati Rayudu/ Kedar Jadhav 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Axar Patel, 8 Dhawal Kulkarni, 9 Yuzvendra Chahal, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Barinder Sran
Zimbabwe could opt for a lengthy batting line-up, with former captain Elton Chigumbura coming in at No. 7. They appear well stocked with spin options, led by captain Cremer and part-timers Sean Williams and Sikandar Raza. So there is a case for dropping Wellington Masakadza for an extra fast bowler like Donald Tiripano.
Zimbabwe (probable) 1 Chamu Chibhabha, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 4 Sean Williams, 5 Craig Ervine, 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Graeme Cremer (capt), 9 Neville Madziva, 10 Wellington Masakadza/ Donald Tiripano, 11 Tendai Chatara
Pitch and conditions
The pitch at the Harare Sports Club usually usually has a split personality, especially during matches that begin as early as 9 am. It would help the new ball dart around in the first hour or so, but following that batsmen will only have to be wary of its slowness. And weather wise, a clear and pleasant day is expected, with temperatures in the low 20C range.
Stats and trivia
India have had a different captain in each of their last four tours to Zimbabwe – Dhoni in 2016, Ajinkya Rahane in 2015, Virat Kohli in 2013 and Suresh Raina in 2010.
Cremer has been Zimbabwe’s most successful bowler since his return from international hiatus in May 2015. He has 45 wickets in 33 innings across formats. The next best is Luke Jongwe with 32.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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