Audition for India's next-in-line
Match factsWednesday, July 24, 2013
Start time 0900 local (0700 GMT)
Big PictureZimbabwe and India were regular sparring partners in the mid to late nineties, but India have only visited the country thrice since 2000 and haven't invited the Zimbabweans over since 2002. For the hosts, the upcoming series could well be the marquee cricketing event of the year, and India also have their reasons to make the most out of this trip.
The presence of five potential one-day international debutants suggests that India are keen to try out a couple of new options, particularly with the ball, and the series will also allow Virat Kohli to add to his CV as the heir to the captaincy after mixed results at the helm in the Caribbean. These five games may not be entirely indicative of the future of the Indian team, but they will offer some enlightening clues.
They'll also serve as an early audition for an event of far greater consequence to India: their trip to South Africa at the end of the year. India's preparations for that tour also include a visit by the A side to South Africa in August. Despite the modesty of the opposition there's ample reason for the visitors to take these games seriously.
For their own part, Zimbabwe will be happy with the chance to test themselves against quality opponents, and also ease some financial pressures with the tour likely to turn a profit thanks to the lucrative television rights deals that India bring with them. Indeed, after the paucity of international fixtures last year, Zimbabwe are proving a far more popular destination in 2013 with Pakistan and Sri Lanka both visiting before the end of the year.
The Zimbabweans also won't have forgotten India's last tour in 2010, when an inexperienced touring group battled to compete with either the hosts or Sri Lanka in the tri-series and failed to make the final. Zimbabwe's squad has been training together for more than two months to prepare for these ODIs, and it's possible that they could register a rare win against elite opposition in one or two of the matches. The series opener could well be their best chance to do that.
Form guide(most recent first, last five completed games)
In the spotlightIt's hard to believe it's taken this long for Cheteshwar Pujara to force his way into ODI contention for India, considering his eye-catching short format statistics - he averages 56.97 in List A cricket, with eight hundreds. Pujara has taken to Test cricket with instinctual ease, and if he moves as naturally into ODIs, his presence in the middle order could add significantly to Zimbabwe's worries.
Where Pujara's statistics immediately and obviously mark him out as a successful batsman, Sikandar Raza's don't, at first glance, suggest a rare talent. But his laidback, friendly attitude belies a fierce dedication to the game, and Raza has earned his place in this team. He averaged 52.40 in the List A season leading to his debut against Bangladesh in May, but his results during that tour were modest and he'll be keen to make an impact.
Zimbabwe are picking from a fully-fit 17-man squad, and coach Andy Waller confirmed that Ray Price is, in fact, in the group, but it's unlikely he'll play in the opening match. The host's nets session on Monday also suggested a settled top six, but there are nine bowlers bottlenecking into four slots down the order. A balanced attack seems the most sensible option, and Tinotenda Mutombodzi looked the best of the spinners during training.
Zimbabwe (likely): 1 Vusi Sibanda, 2 Sikandar Raza, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (capt & wk), 5 Malcolm Waller, 6 Sean Williams, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Prosper Utseya, 9 Tinotenda Mutombodzi, 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11 Brian Vitori
Like Zimbabwe, India's scope for experimentation - at least in the series opener - is in their bowling group. Amit Mishra's experience will be valuable to the young attack, while the combination of Vinay Kumar and Jaydev Unadkat would add variety. The most open position is that vacated by R Ashwin at No. 8, and offspinning allrounder Parvez Rasool could be in line to become the first player from India's Kashmir valley to represent the national side.
India (likely): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Parvez Rasool , 9 Amit Mishra, 10 Vinay Kumar, 11 Jaydev Unadkat
Pitch and conditionsWinters in Zimbabwe are cold and dry and usually the pitches reflect this, favouring spin over seam and playing a little on the slow side. The track for Wednesday's game has been very well watered, however, and the groundstaff have left some grass on it to negate the potential for drying and crumbling. New ball bowlers may well profit in the first hour, with the games due to start somewhat early at 9am, but the wicket should have the pace to allow for shot-making.
Stats and trivia
- Despite some notable successes, such as at the 1999 World Cup, Zimbabwe have only beaten India in 10 out of the 51 ODIs they've played against them since 1983.
- The first obstacle for Zimbabwe's bowlers in a daunting Indian batting line-up will be the opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, who average 57.72 in partnership and have put together three century stands.
- Of Zimbabwe's current batsmen, captain Brendan Taylor has by far the best record against India in ODIs, with 184 runs at 46 against them in four games.
Quotes"Our top six are quite settled, and I'd like to think they know they're in that position, but we've obviously got a spare batter sitting waiting to move in. But I think they'll have a decent run."
Zimbabwe have had a long time to prepare for this series, and coach Andrew Waller is putting his faith in his batsmen.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town