India vs Zimbabwe 1st ODI: Chance for youngsters to make a mark and Dhoni to hang on to his job
With just 12 months to go for Champions Trophy, the Zimbabwe series assumes great importance for skipper Dhoni.
An inexperienced Indian team under MS Dhoni will take on Zimbabwe in the first ODI on Saturday. This is India’s third tour to Zimbabwe since 2013 and just confirms the notion that the fixtures between the two teams no more carry the charm of yore and have merely become a ground to test out youngsters who show their mettle in the Indian Premier League. Besides, with 12 months to go for the Champions Trophy in England, this otherwise seemingly inconsequential bilateral series assumes importance of gargantuan proportions for under-fire Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
After stepping aside from Tests to make way for Virat Kohli to lead the side, there have been calls for the skipper’s head from the shorter formats too. And if statistics are anything to go by, Dhoni doesn’t seem to have a strong case to present either. After the 2015 World Cup, where India made it to the semis, Dhoni has little to show for his captaincy. India faced a shock series defeat in Bangladesh and were undone by AB de Villiers’ heroics to lose the 5 match ODI series against South Africa at home.
India then went to Australia with high hopes, only to be outclassed by the Kangaroos in ODIs as they trounced India 4-1, with the only win coming in the dead rubber. Though India managed to salvage pride with a 3-0 whitewash in the T20 series, they failed to win the T20 World Cup in home conditions. Besides, concerns have also been raised about the right-hander’s batting abilities, which critics have pointed are on the wane.
Apart from Dhoni, the new faces in the team would also hope to leave a mark in the series. There are four players in the squad who will be looking to make their debut for the national team. Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav scored a century the last time they turned out in India colours and will be looking to present a strong case for themselves. Faiz Fazal is likely to be given a chance at the top of the order, while KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav and Manish Pandey will be hoping for a spot in the middle order.
In the bowling department, Jasprit Bumrah, who impressed in Australia and the World T20, is expected to share the new ball with Dhawal Kulkarni, who is coming off a brilliant season of IPL. The second highest wicket taker of the 2016 IPL, leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal could also find himself in the mix ahead of Jayant Yadav in the absence of too many spin options in the squad.
For Zimbabwe, it is another new beginning in the list of so many already after they sacked Hamilton Masakadza and coach Dav Whatmore. Captain Graeme Cremer still has names that can come good against a highly inexperienced Indian side. The team has experienced campaigners in Vusi Sibanda, Craig Ervine, Elton Chigumbura and Sean Williams and will be looking forward to them for inspired performances.
Pakistan-born Sikander Raza has time and again shown why he is considered a bright prospect and will be looking to make the most of the inexperienced bowling line-up. The team’s chances have been struck a crucial blow due to the injury of Tinashe Panyangara and will look forward to skipper Cremer to provide inspiration, who, with his leg breaks can prove to be more than handy on the slow tracks of Zimbabwe.
Although India whitewashed the Zimbabweans in the last ODI series last year, one cannot deny that the Zimbabweans had India in trouble on more occasions than one. India won the first match of the series by a slender margin of 4 runs and were left reeling at 82 for 4 in the last ODI before Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav rescued the team. India eventually did lose the second T20I to the Zimbabweans. This team is far more inexperienced than the one that faced Zimbabwe in the last series and skipper Dhoni’s midas touch also seems to be fading. In such circumstances, Cremer will lick his lips in anticipation to score a series win so that he can get his interim appointment made permanent.