The inexperienced youngsters will have to be right on the money to make a mark in Zimbabwe tour © AFP
The inexperienced youngsters will have to be right on the money to make a mark in Zimbabwe tour © AFP

With the ninth edition of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2016 over, Team India is about to start its new season by visiting Zimbabwe for a short limited-overs tour. The Indian selectors have rested their star players, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin from the series but included MS Dhoni as he was willing to tour the African nation. It does not matter that India are touring Zimbabwe: it will be a stern test for the new, inexperienced players along with regular skipper, Dhoni. Despite putting the retirement speculations to rest during ICC World T20 earlier this year, Dhoni keeps making headlines mainly because of the ongoing ‘captaincy debate’; a chunk of Indian cricket pundits keep speculating whether Kohli should replace Dhoni as captain in all formats. Despite his triple roles as batsman, captain and wicketkeeper, Dhoni will still have a job in hand when he steps up during the first ODI starting June 11. ALSO READ: Indian cricket team leaves for Zimbabwe for limited-overs series

Such tours, immediately after IPL, are valuable for youngsters who strive hard to get into the national team. If they can make a mark, they will get a chance to rub shoulders with established players. The superstars of the team take time off during such tours but the youngsters try to pounce on such tours to prove a point to the selectors. Success in domestic cricket and IPL are crucial to spot players, and these tours serve the perfect opportunities to test them. Turning up in national colours, representing your nation are certainly matters of pride and pressure. While some flourish under the conditions, some others succumb when pitted against international sides. ALSO READ: Dhoni: BCCI to take call on India’s future captain

This time the radar will be on Dhawal Kulkarni, Mandeep Singh, Karun Nair, KL Rahul and Krunal Pandya, among others. Seamers will be tested in Powerplay and death overs. Spinners need to strike the balance between containing and luring batsmen. As for the batsmen, their abilities to play long innings, rotate strike and go for the kill in death over will all be scrutinised by selectors, coach and captain.

India have lost three back-to-back bilateral ODI series since ICC World cup 2015, to Bangladesh, South Africa and Australia. The death bowling was inefficient in the series against Proteas and Down Under, but a more persevering problem has been the batting-order. The middle-order probably needs to undergo a drastic change. While Manish Pandey and Ajinkya Rahane are lurking around the corner, a permanent slot seems uncertain as of now. If KL Rahul, Pandey or Nair have a good series, they can solve this problem for the team management. Everything is up for grabs right from the bowlers and batsmen.

For Dhoni, he needs to start afresh. Ever since he retired from the longest format, it seems as if everyone is waiting eagerly for his retirement from the shorter formats as well. His fitness can challenge any youngster, he has not actually been out of form. Nevertheless, to silence his critics, Dhoni will love to perform with bat and prove his worth as a finisher again. More than that, however, he will be eager to get back to winning ways, that too with a new-look side, in this tour. After three disastrous series he will like to go for the kill from the very onset. A lot of fingers have been raised at him, and he knows only a series win will shut his haters for now. It will be a challenge for him to identify the strengths of his squad in such a long time and obtain the best out of them.

He will have to sweat it out in the practice seasons to see where he can fit his batsmen, who can take the responsibility of bowling with the new ball and when can he bowl his spinners. Lastly, interim coach, Sanjay Bangar, would be delighted to take charge of the youngsters and if he succeeds as a coach, this may open new windows for him in the coming years. In all, India’s tour of Zimbabwe is full of opportunities for every single person involved in the squad.

(Aditya Sahay is a journalist with CricketCountry who is completely into sports and loves writing about cricket in general. He can be followed on Twitter at adisahay7)