Preview: Virat Kohli-led India look to assert against tricky Zimbabwe

Virat Kohli will be eager to prove his credentials as a captain leading a young side against Zimbabwe © AFP

By Abhijit Banare

Jul 23, 2013

In the recent history of India’s One-Day Internationals (ODIs), a win or loss against Zimbabwe in the five-match ODI series won’t incite drastic changes, nor would it result in extreme reactions. However, on an individual level, a good performance can give a much needed push to the career of fringe players starting with the first ODI on Wednesday. And as for the cricket fans it’s always an exciting moment to see new players making a mark.
The Indian selectors have set their agenda straight by phasing out seniors and rebuilding the pillars by sending a young squad. With the taste of success in recent tri-series in the Caribbean and the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 preceding it, the world champions have undoubtedly carried a bagful of confidence to the African nation.
Even Virat Kohli couldn’t ask for a better opposition to get a full role as captain. The low-profile series will allow Kohli to ease into the role of leading a young side which also reduces the burden balancing seniors and new players. This will be the first ODI series Indians are playing without regular skipper MS Dhoni since the five-match series in 2011 against West Indies.

Indian batting
The only stable combination which India carry into the first ODI is the solid opening duo of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma who have added 592 runs in the last 10 matches they’ve played together starting with the Champions Trophy. Another successful run in this series will affirm their position for a sustained period.

The rest of the defence looks rock-solid with Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik and Suresh Raina. However, one selection which has been in the to-do list of the selectors for a while is the induction of Cheteshwar Pujara. It would be interesting to know where the dependable batsman fits in the team. The reliability of Pujara will be a tempting option to place him ahead of Ajinkya Rahane in the playing XI.

Raw pace attack
The only loose end for India is its bowling. In the absence of regular pacers, the squad features four quicks with Vinay Kumar being the reasonably experienced among them. Going by the presence of all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, India are likely to have three pacers and a specialist spinner in the playing XI. Shami Ahmed, having played for India, is certain to start while the final toss-up will be between Mohit Sharma and Jaydev Unadkat with the former establishing his credentials as a strike bowler upfront in the sixth edition of Indian Premier League (IPL). Among spinners, Amit Mishra is most likely to get his due. The opportunities for other players are sure to come by if India manage to convincingly build an unassailable lead with consecutive wins early on.

Zimbabwe’s impact players
As for Zimbabwe, going by the periodicity of their ODIs played, it would be inappropriate to discuss form and team strength similar to their opponents. The recent competitive cricket they played was against the West Indies in March this year and then against Bangladesh in May. The latter, they managed to beat.
What they do have on a positive front is the presence of impact players who have the ability to force a young Indian side to take them much more seriously. Among these include the aggressive opener Vusi Sibanda, his partner Hamilton Masakadza and skipper Brendan Taylor in the middle-order. Their key batsmen also need to be supported by Malcolm Waller and Sean Williams.
In bowling, the experience of all-rounder Elton Chigumbara and spinner Prosper Utseya will have to cover the relatively inexperienced fast bowling line-up. Going by past matches the young fast bowlers Brian Vitori and Tendai Chatara will be among the pacers along with Kyle Jarvis.

India’s head-to-head record stands at a comfortable 39 victories to 10 losses in 51 ODIs. At Harare, the visitors have won five out of the seven matches. The Men in Blue will also remember the fact that their last visit as part of a tri-series in 2010 wasn’t the best experience for the young side which this team would like to overturn.
It’s going to be an interesting series as the young Indian side will be energised against a team that’ll look to test the top-ranked ODI team.

Zimbabwe (Probable): Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza, Sikandar Raza, Brendan Taylor (c&wk), Sean Williams, Malcolm Waller, Elton Chigumbara, Prosper Utseya, Kyle Jarvis, Tendai Chetara, Brian Vitori.
India (Probable): Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (c), Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Vinay Kumar, Shami Ahmed, Mohit Sharma, Amit Mishra.

Time: 12.30 IST | 07.00 GMT

(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)