Ajinkya Rahane will lead India for the first time in his career © AFP
Ajinkya Rahane will lead India for the first time in his career © AFP

Harare: India‘s bench strength will be tested when a second string team takes on Zimbabwe in a three-match One-Day International (ODI) series beginning here tomorrow with the youngsters as well as a few seniors hoping to capitalise on the opportunity. It is India’s first assignment after heart-breaking series-defeat against Asian neighbours Bangladesh and taking the hosts lightly is hardly an option for the World Cup semifinalist as the African nation has shown progress and promise of late. Read: India vs Zimbabwe 2015, 1st ODI at Harare: Preview

Handed over the captaincy in the absence of seniors, young batsman Ajinkya Rahane too has a point to prove after being trusted for the job by selectors. The diminutive batsman was dropped for the last two ODIs against Bangladesh and skipper MS Dhoni  justified his exclusion by saying that the Mumbai player struggles to rotate strike on slow pitches. Rahane responded sensibly to the criticism and politely asserted that he was playing well. But he is expected to encounter slow and low pitches in Zimbabwe as its suits the home team’s strength. READ: India tour of Zimbabwe 2015: Rahane, Harbhajan and other Indian cricketers to watch out for

Rahane has to do well to cement his place in the Indian middle-order and other players such as Robin Uthappa, Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav, Ambati Rayudu and Manish Pandey too would be keen to make a mark. Bhuvneshwar will spearhead the pace attack and is most likely to have Mohit Sharma as his new ball partner. It is interesting to see if Rahane opts for three pacers which would mean that Dhawal Kulkarni will also get a game. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh is the senior-most player in the side and with Axar Patel is certain to make the playing XI for the series-opener. Read: India vs Zimbabwe 2015: Visitors face batting order conundrum

In their historic tour to Pakistan, they lost both ODI and Twenty20 series to hosts but Zimbabwe players did not go down without proving a point. Led by skipper Elton Chigumbara, they batted with determination against a decent Pakistan attack. Sikandar Raza, Vusi Sibanda and Chamu Chibhabha had ensured that Zimbabwe did not look like pushovers.

Australia’s Dav Whatmore has worked with this bunch of players and the coach has belief in his players. However he says the situation is tricky, facing India’s B team. “India are a great team, but then they’ve changed their group. And it’s almost like a different pressure now: that you’re expected to do well. If you win, people might say they’re only a second rate team, and if you lose it’s ‘bloody hell you can’t even beat a second rate team’. It’s a little bit tricky,” Whatmore said. Chigumbura and Sikandar Raza had scored centuries in hot conditions in Pakistan and in familier and more suitable cool conditions at home they will present a good challenge for a the Indian bowlers.Hamilton Masakadza and Sean Williams add to the energy of home batting order. Read: Zimbabwe will fancy their chances against ‘second-string’ India

Coach Whatmore is mighty impressed with Chamu Chibhabha and is pleased with the fact almost all of his players can swing their arm if need be.”We’re pretty lucky that two of our batsmen in the top six (Raza and Williams) are both spinners. And then the leg-spinner Graeme Cremer, I think most teams around the world would love that. And then when you think about what we had just a few months ago with Solomon Mire, Elton Chigumbura, and now Chamu Chibhabha also showing good progress, I think we’re the envy of a few to be honest. “They might not have the experience, but bloody hell, I think there’s about eight or nine who can bowl in an ODI, and that’s a good position to be in,” Whatmore said. Read: India tour of Zimbabwe 2015: Will the Ajinkya Rahane gamble work?