India vs Zimbabwe 1st T20I Preview
Both teams have played only four T20Is against each other, with Zimbabwe emerging victorious only once © Getty Images

It’s been an easy outing for Team India‘s second-string side so far. In the three-match One-Day International (ODI) series, MS Dhoni‘s talented and young brigade handed him his first ODI clean sweep on a foreign soil. They made full use of the conditions and outfoxed the hosts Zimbabwe in all the departments. However, T20I is a different format altogether. Zimbabwe, in inaugural ICC World T20, beat the heavyweight Australia, with the help of a superior bowling display. Moreover, the last time India and Zimbabwe played a T20I bilateral series, Elton Chigumbura and Graeme Cremer helped their team register maiden T20I win over India and draw series 1-1. Full Cricket Scorecard: Zimbabwe vs India, 1st T20I, at Harare

India’s upward surge in T20I:

India’s journey in the shortest format this year has been spectacular. First, they whitewashed the powerful Aussies in their home habitat and then outplayed Sri Lanka before clinching the Asia Cup 2016 with comfort and grace. Nevertheless, the pre tournament favourites of ICC World T20 2016 landed at the doorstep of defeat in its penultimate stage.

All in all, India have been clinical and methodical in their approach in 2016, and are placed at No. 2 in ICC World T20I rankings.

Zimbabwe’s miserable T20I record:

Zimbabwe have played 51 T20Is, tasting victory only 12 times. Out of these victories, they have beaten Australia, West Indies and India once. Thus, this merits the fact that they have enough calibre to succeed in this format but have failed to come good as a cohesive unit.

Zimbabwe, in 2015, have a had relatively successful journey, winning four out of nine matches. And, in one of these victories, Zimbabwe’s most experienced player Hamilton Masakadza scored his career best of unbeaten 93, and was eventually awarded Player of the Match. Hence, for Zimbabwe to get the better of the in-form Indians, Masakadza will have to step up and set the scoreboard on fire.

India’s middle-order conundrum:

For the last three years, India’s top-order batsmen have been making headlines with their record-breaking performances, be it Rohit Sharma’s 264 or Virat Kohli’s ton-scoring spree. With the bulk of the job done by the these batsmen, middle and lower-middle order batsmen didn’t get enough opportunities to practice their skills, eventually failing to perform in pressure situations. Read – Rahul’s rise in limited-overs holds India in good stead

In this series as well, KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu took up the onus of providing impetus. As matter of fact, the No. 4 batsmen got to play only one ball. Hence, the question beckons: should Captain Cool promote Kedhar Jadhav and other batters up the order and let them face the heat?

As a matter of fact, Jadhav scored an unbeaten 105 in his last ODI innings, and should ideally bat at No. 3. Akshar Patel, on the other hand, is significantly used as an all-rounder, but last had the opportunity to use his blade was in October 2015.

Dhoni himself hasn’t batted so far in this tour. And, if truth be told, he likes to bat only when the required run-rate scales up. In short, his role is to get his team out of the woods.

Should Jaydev Undakat, Mandeep Singh and Jayant Yadav play in the T20I opener?

The only change India made in the ODI series was the replacement of Karun Nair with Faiz Fazal, who scored a vital fifty on debut. However, the likes of Unadkat, Mandeep and Yadav were benched in all the games. PHOTO: Virat Kohli’s answer to MS Dhoni dinner selfie

Given Dhoni believes in process more than result, these three should get a nod. But it makes the selection process even more complicated, as (yet again) the middle-order batsmen did nothing but field and stop the opposition from scoring boundaries.

Mandeep has a technique of that of an opener. If he is to play, he will replace Faizal in the top order. Yadav, on the other hand, will have to wait for his debut, as Yuzvendra Chahal is in the peak of his form, and would be unfair to drop him at this stage.

Nevertheless, one of the pacers can be rested to make way for Unadkat. T20I is the only format Unadkat hasn’t donned India’s jersey in. In seven ODIs he played for India, he has bagged eight wickets with an economy of just over 4 RPO.

Zimbabwe need to bowl wicket-taking deliveries:

Zimbabwe bowlers, most importantly, didn’t bowl ordinary. Thy stuck to their disciplined line and length and kept the runs flow at bay. Tendai Chatara, for example, matched up to Indian bowlers’ standards and was the only Zimbabwe’s frontline seamer to take a wicket. On the other hand, Zimbabwe spinners will, undoubtedly, be taken to the cleaners by the Indian pacers. Plus, the conditions will be chilly and favour the seam bowling. Thus, the onus will be on the Zimbabwe bowlers to put India in a spot of bother. Read – Virat Kohli may be ready but there is still time for him to replace MS Dhoni

Conclusion:

Both teams have played only four T20Is against against each, with Zimbabwe emerging victorious only once. Moreover, most of the Indian players are coming on the back of remarkable performances in Indian Premier League (IPL), which is one of most competitive T20 domestic league.

Like Dhoni did in the first match, he will go for the kill in the T20Is as well. If not winning the series, Zimbabwe will have to at least put a good fight, and prove their mettle and squash all the talks about being incompetent against India’s second-string side.

Squads:

Zimbabwe: Graeme Cremer (c), Brian Chari, Tendai Chatara, Chamu Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Neville Madziva, Timycen Maruma, Hamilton Masakadza, Wellington Masakadza, Peter Moor, Tapiwa Mufudza, Tinotenda Mutombodzi, Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Taurai Muzarabani, Vusimuzi Sibanda, Sikandar Raza, Donald Tiripano, Malcolm Waller

India: MS Dhoni (c & wk), Lokesh Rahul, Faiz Fazal, Manish Pandey, Karun Nair, Ambati Rayudu, Rishi Dhawan, Akshar Patel, Jayant Yadav, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jasprit Bumrah, Barinder Sran, Mandeep Singh, Kedar Jadhav, Jaydev Unadkat, Yuzvendra Chahal

Time: 16:30 IST | 11:00 GMT

(Kaustubh S. Mayekar, a reporter at CricketCountry, played cricket at U-16 level. Like his idol Rahul Dravid, he often shadow-practises cricket shots. His Twitter handle is @kaumedy_)