Zimbabwe v India fixtures come once in a blue-moon these days! India’s most recent tours to Zimbabwe were in 2010 and 2013, both of which involved second string Men-In-Blue sides. Apparently, the scenario remains unchanged this time too, as most of the big-wigs in the team have been rested for this tour. Ajinkya Rahane has been handed the responsibility of captaining the side in this largely low-key affair.
Zimbabwe v India – Recent history
It was during the 2010 tour that India managed to play the first ODI against Zimbabwe in nearly 5 years. Between September 2005 and May 2010, the two sides had never met each other in an ODI match! Clearly, the rising stature of India and the falling standards of Zimbabwe in world cricket had created this hiatus in the last decade.The tour of 2010 promised to re-energize Indo-Zimbabwe cricketing ties, but was never successful in doing so. It was a tri-lateral series between India, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe which turned out to be a forgettable one for the second string Indian side.
Suresh Raina (captain of the side for the tour) and his boys failed to make it to the Final, and lost two matches successively to hosts Zimbabwe! However, the results were brushed aside as inconsequential to India’s ‘plans for the World Cup 2011’. A bilateral ODI series between the two sides was organised in 2013, with the young and ebullient Virat Kohli leading the Indians this time. This, mind you, was not a second string side, and the Indian visitors whitewashed Zimbabwe 5-0, with great aplomb.
Policy of ‘second string sides’ – Does it work?
The selectors quite explicitly admitted that they were interested in looking at the ‘other aspects of Rahane’, while choosing him as the captain of the tour. The 15-member squad consists of a mix of untested young guys and some second string players. Heavyweights like Kohli, Dhawan, Dhoni, Rohit, Raina, Ashwin and Umesh have opted out of this tour, and that has given ample scope to the selectors to give some of the (perennially) benched players a shot at glory!
A second chance for aspirants to the Indian middle order
The future of Manoj Tiwary, Robin Uthappa, Kedar Jadhav and Manish Pandey may not be decided by this tour but chances may be few and far in between. Even if they manage to pull of something incredible in the next few days, there is no guarantee, whatsoever, that they would figure in the national team in the important tours that are coming up. Whatever noteworthy contributions they have made during their ‘in-and-out’ careers in the past have been swiftly forgotten, and replaced by the team regulars.
Manoj Tiwary, for example, has played only 9 matches in the last 7 years, most of which have been during inconsequential matches. Robin Uthappa, too, has been a victim of this ‘second string’ policy of the BCCI. Once hailed as a master finisher for the ODI side, Uthappa has now been relegated to the margins of domestic cricket and IPL.Manish Pandey’s case might be more hopeful as he gets ready to make his ODI debut at the age of 25. However, his IPL career apparently indicates that he has great potential and he will need to make this tour count.
Unless there is an exceptional performance, one can expect the familiar faces to return soon, pushing these fringe elements into a future of fruitless labour.
High hopes from Indian bowlers
It is in the bowling department that the Indian team can expect some surprises. The debut of young pace sensation Sandeep Sharma has been much awaited. Staurt Binny might finally have an extended run, atleast for a series! Karn Sharma, too, was someone to watch out for, until an untimely injury ruled him out of the tour. This series is going to be tough for Harbhajan Singh’s ageing body, but selectors might consider Bhajji a probable contender for the Test side for some more time if he can hold himself steady in Zimbabwe. Axar Patel and Dhawal Kulkarni have been good in patches in the last one year. Both of them ought to utilize this opportunity to strengthen their credentials for regular spots in the national side. While Kulkarni can give stiff competition to Mohit, Umesh and Bhuvi for a place in pace department, Axar is most likely to challenge the out-of-form Ravindra Jadeja’s place as an all rounder in ODIs.
Indian squad for ODI Series against Zimbabwe
Ajinkya Rahane (c), Manoj Tiwary, Robin Uthappa (wkt), Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, Ambati Rayudu, Stuart Binny, Axar Patel, Mohit Sharma, Dhawal Kulkarni, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Sandeep Sharma, Murali Vijay, Karn Sharma (injured).