Another Kohli ton in a chase, another India win
India 230 for 4 (Kohli 115, Rayudu 63*) beat Zimbabwe 228 for 7 (Raza 82, Mishra 3-43) by six wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Usually, Indian cricketers ply their trade in packed and raucous concrete bowls and have to deal with a large media contingent. The Harare Sports Club, in contrast, features vast grass banks, rudimentary stands and is ringed by trees. Only a couple of Indian journalists have made the trip to Zimbabwe to cover the series.
If that wasn't enough to ease the pressure on an Indian squad filled with understudies, the cool weather on a sunny day, the toothless Zimbabwe bowling and a benign pitch made them feel all the more comfortable. With the schooldkids dancing in the stands and plenty of fans having a leisurely lunch near the pavilion, the match seemed more like a casual afternoon game in the park, rather than an international encounter.
The intensity of the contest particularly dimmed once Virat Kohli took charge of yet another chase. Over the past three years, Kohli has developed into one of the leading batsmen in one-dayers, a reputation forged on the back of several big centuries when hunting down targets, but today's hundred - his 15th in ODIs, drawing him level with Virender Sehwag and Mohammad Yousuf - could well have been his easiest in international cricket.
The chase revolved around a 159-run stand for the third wicket between debutant Ambati Rayudu and Kohli. Rayudu first came to national attention a decade ago, when picked as a 17-year-old for an A tour of the Caribbean and was touted as the next big thing in Indian cricket. However, a tussle with his state association and a dalliance with the unofficial Indian Cricket League combined to keep him out of the India team for years. The friendly conditions were the perfect setting for Rayudu to make his debut, and he helped himself to an unbeaten half-century.
Rayudu and Kohli came together after India's opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma departed fairly early - Dhawan after failing to control a hook, and Rohit after nicking a wide, amiable delivery to the keeper. Kohli was fluent right from the start, highlighted by a controlled drive through extra cover and a superbly timed flick to the midwicket boundary. With the asking-rate well in hand, Rayudu took his time early on to settle any nerves, mainly dealing in singles - he hit just two fours till he reached his half-century.
With the pitch having dried out, and Zimbabwe's spinners not getting much purchase, Prosper Utseya's late double-strike wasn't much more than an opportunity for the crowd to cheer.
The gulf between the two sides was clearly in evidence, though it was widened considerably by India winning the toss. The only time the pitch encouraged the bowlers was soon after the 9am start, and India's new-ball bowlers, Vinay Kumar and Shami Ahmed, had the ball swerving around though they couldn't separate the dogged Zimbabwe opening pair of Sikandar Raza and Vusi Sibanda. The openers, well aware of the early danger, concentrated on keeping wickets in hand, not bothering about the scoring rate which remained below three in the first hour.
Raza, the Sialkot-born batsman, shrugged off an indifferent start to his international career with a watchful 82 that held the innings together. The camera frequently panned to a man wearing a 'Team Raza' t-shirt, and Raza didn't disappoint his fans. The run-rate may have been wanting, and it wasn't until the 32nd over that he reached his half-century, but he then showcased his repertoire of strokes, highlighted by two sixes in the Powerplay - one a stunning straight hit over Vinay's head and the other a muscular swat over midwicket for six more.
India's spinners kept the pressure on Zimbabwe's top order. Jadeja continued to be in top form, with his steady spin fetching him 10-3-33-0 while legspinner Amit Mishra, playing his first ODI in more than two years, got three wickets. His googly was going to be a big weapon against a team that hasn't faced him too often, and it provided India the first breakthrough, as Sibanda was lbw in the 22nd over.
The disciplined bowling meant that Zimbabwe struggled to lift the scoring rate. It was only around the batting Powerplay, when Raza and Brendan Taylor - Zimbabwe's best batsman, who walked out as late as the 34th over - piled on 43 runs in five overs, that the home side finally got a move on. After Taylor departed, Raza followed, falling for 82 as he missed a short ball from Mishra. He walked off dejected, and though Elton Chigumbura reeled off a series of boundaries in an unbeaten 43 off 34 balls to lift the target to 229, it didn't prove much of a challenge for India.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo