India Zimbabwe

The team, fans and media should not dwell too much on the whitewash and focus on India’s next big assignment in South Africa © AFP

India emphatically won the One-Day International (ODI) series against Zimbabwe 5-0 and a lot of praises flew towards the young victorious brigade. As the dust just about settles over the triumph, it is easier to analyse the whole contest by widening the mindset. In reality, one should not get too carried away by the whitewash, writes Shrikant Shankar.

When any team wins a bilateral ODI series 5-0, it will always generate a lot of praise and adulation for the winners — and rightly so. It is no mean feat to do this, whether it is the home side or the away side. The series statistics will look lopsided. The top run-scorers and wicket-takers will obviously be from the victorious team. Such results seldom occur in international cricket between equally strong teams, although it has happened in the past and will probably happen in the future as well. That is the stark difference between India and Zimbabwe — they are not equals.

India’s comfortable 5-0 series whitewash over Zimbabwe was nothing unexpected. Most of this team had recently won the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 and the Caribbean ODI tri-series. Yes, some important players were rested and some untested players were given a run-around. Most of them did well.

Amit Mishra was the pick of the bowlers with a record 18 wickets to his name. Almost all the batsmen got amongst the runs. Captain Virat Kohli said there a lot of positives to take home from the series. All this is definitely true, but one also has to look at the level of opposition. India are the reigning world champions and are always involved in important series and tours round the year. Zimbabwe hardly get teams to play in their own backyard, let alone tour other countries.

Many players on both sides made their debuts during the series. From India’s perspective, it was important for the likes of Jaydev Unadkat, Ajinkya Rahane, Mohit Sharma to impress in whatever little opportunity they got. As everyone knows, Parvez Rasool did not feature in any of the matches, something which gives out mixed signals. Apart from that there could hardly be any valid criticism for India. Make no mistake, if they had even lost one match, everyone would get on their backs. So, one cannot be boastful of this achievement. It should be taken in with a pinch of salt.

Although many of the Indian players are considered inexperienced in the international arena, they are more experienced than their Zimbabwean counterparts in playing the game. Most of these players have toured with the India A sides to various countries. They play in a competitive domestic circuit and are regular features in the Indian Premier League (IPL). They rub their shoulders with the best. Zimbabwe players do not enjoy these privileges and many of them have other jobs as well. While some of the Indian players get six-figure salaries, the Zimbabweans sign up for winter contracts of around $500. Money may not directly decide the outcome of the series, but it helps in providing the best amenities and facilities for India’s cricketers. Zimbabwean cricket does not have money for its players to stay in hotels. They also have to carpool to reach the stadium.

If India were playing against the Zimbabwe team from a decade ago, the competition between the sides would have been a lot better. People are losing interest in cricket in the African country. Coming to the series, Zimbabwe were completely outplayed in all the matches. They had no answer to Mishra’s leg-spin. His 18 wickets were 10 more than Unadkat’s tally of eight. Again, one should not get too carried away with this. Although Mishra has not got many opportunities for India, he is still a good bowler. And spinners can be highly lethal against weak opposition. Ajantha Mendis took 15 wickets against Zimbabwe in Sri Lanka’s 2008 five-match ODI series alongside a Muttiah Muralitharan.

Kohli also looked calm and composed for most of the series, but then again this was really no test of anyone’s temperament. His squabble with the umpire in the second ODI was again something that an Indian captain should not be doing. The batsmen got the runs, but there wasn’t too much pressure on them. The one negative for them could be that they threw their wickets away with some rash strokes. At the end of the day, India were expected to finish the clean sweep and they did. This Indian team does deserve credit for their achievements over the last few months. They still have a long way to go and have to prove themselves on a more consistent basis against quality opposition.

India’s tour to South Africa later in the year would be a very tough challenge. If India can beat the Proteas in their own den, it would be considered as a momentous achievement. The team, fans and media should not dwell too much on the whitewash and focus on India’s next big assignment.

(Shrikant Shankar previously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)