Indian rookies have a lot to play for
India are currently ranked No. 1 in ODIs and one of the hallmarks of a top-ranking side over time is the quality of bench strength. While India get ready to play Zimbabwe without some of their senior players, it's a good opportunity for some of the newcomers to perform and prove that the team's DNA is not dependent on a few individuals, but is a high-performance culture that runs deep. I am reminded of the quadrangular series between England, Zimbabwe, Australia A and Australia in 1994-95, where the finals were contested by the two Australian sides. That showed to the world that Australia's second XI was better than many international sides. India can learn a thing or two from that series as they aim to build an ODI team for the future. Over to the youngsters.
The offspinning allrounder from Jammu and Kashmir has made it to the team on the back of consistent performances in the domestic season. Rasool will be looking to ease himself into the international scene in Zimbabwe, where the pressure on him to deliver would be lesser. He's had a taste of the highest level, having played against the touring English and Australian sides recently.
If Rasool clicks, India would have found someone to share the spinners' workload with R Ashwin. Rasool's partnership with Ravindra Jadeja, who turns the ball the other way, will make for interesting viewing in the middle overs.
Mohit Sharma's rise to the top was fast-tracked by his 2013 IPL season for the Chennai Super Kings. Mohit's key strength is the ball that goes away, and he bowls an impressive attacking line. He was handled well by MS Dhoni in the IPL, and that surely played a part in his success. Having Mohit and Bhuvneshwar Kumar - a swing bowler who bowls at a lesser pace - bowling in tandem will give India an edge with the new ball.
India's new-found performance man in Test cricket finally gets a chance to shine in the shorter format. Despite a tremendous List A average of 56.97, Pujara has unfairly been labelled as a slow run-getter. Given his recent successes, there's no question over his technique on tricky wickets or against good quality seam bowling. In recent times, India have missed a sheet anchor in ODI cricket, and with two new balls coming into play, Pujara could be just the man for them.
Unadkat sure knows the demands of international cricket, having endured a forgettable Test debut in South Africa in late 2010. He is a vastly improved bowler now, and has forced his way back into the set-up with consistent IPL performances. He has also had very successful A tours in New Zealand and England in the last couple of years. Zimbabwe's spongy bounce could be helpful to his style of bowling, which relies on hitting the seam more often than not. His inclusion brings variety to India's inexperienced seam-bowling group.
Having been one of the lynchpins of Mumbai Indians' renaissance since IPL 3, Rayudu's chance to represent the India team comes at just about the right time. He will lend depth to the middle order, and in Dhoni's absence, could slot in as a finisher. Dinesh Karthik is likely to be India's first-choice wicketkeeper, which could work against Rayudu. But if he gets a look-in, possibly ahead of Ajinkya Rahane, he should make it count.
Kartik was the winner of the Hyundai Cricjockey contest that was hosted by ESPNcricinfo during the Champions Trophy 2013
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