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Liam Brickhill in Harare
July 25, 2013
Zimbabwean top-order collapses have been as ubiquitous as the kombis (mini-vans) on the local roads in the last decade. During that time, on average, the score usually hasn't yet reached 30 by the time the first wicket falls. The loss of early wickets has clearly been identified as a problem area by the coaching department, and in that regard Sikandar Raza and Vusi Sibanda's effort in the first ODI was pretty impressive.
But Zimbabwe will never be able to set the sorts of totals that allow them to compete in one-day cricket with such a defensive mindset, and especially not against a batting side as strong as India. What is needed is a balance between attack and defence, and with limited opportunities to strike this balance in match situations, Zimbabwe have to learn on the job.
To that end, captain Brendan Taylor has suggested that his side's batsmen will be more proactive in the second one-day on Friday. The hosts' opening batsmen defied India's seamers for almost 22 overs in testing conditions in the first match, but struggled to score quickly and Zimbabwe's eventual score failed to challenge India's strong batting line-up.
"We need to have that positive approach with our batting because that can only lead to being competitive and winning against better sides," said Taylor. "Our main goal [on Wednesday] was to keep wickets in hand. Watching in the changing room we felt the ball was doing a great deal and the batters consolidated pretty nicely but it was just too risky to go after them. Tomorrow we might have to change that because batting first, 230 or 240 is not going to be enough."
Much has been made of the importance of the toss in this series, and Zimbabwe will be hoping that Virat Kohli calls incorrectly and they won't have to bat first thing in the morning when the ball is nipping around. "Unfortunately it could boil down to the toss, but that's not to take anything away from the way the Indians outplayed us. I think they showed why they are one of the top teams in the world. But they made it extremely difficult for us in the morning and the wicket did flatten out in the afternoon which made it tough for our bowlers."
Whether they bat first or second, Zimbabwe will still have to deal with legspinner Amit Mishra's wily variations. Mishra removed both Vusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza with unpicked googlies, and also got rid of top-scorer Sikandar Raza to finish as the most successful bowler with 3 for 43. "All the guys are saying they've read [Mishra's googly], but it doesn't look like they have," added Taylor. "We've faced him before, and I think that first game was a bit of nerves."
Zimbabwe's own spinners couldn't match Mishra's efforts. Prosper Utseya was gifted the wickets of Kohli and Suresh Raina once the match was as good as won, and Tino Mutombodzi was dispatched for an exorbitant 65 runs in 7.5 wicketless overs. The Zimbabweans may consider bringing in a fourth seamer, with left-arm quick Brian Vitori having been left out of the first game. "There's a discussion about a fourth seamer but to be honest we haven't even announced the side yet," explained Taylor. "I think we'll know first thing in the morning, but maybe a fourth seamer instead of a spinner because they play their spin pretty well."
Zimbabwe will have learnt that Kohli plays both spin and seam very well, and without the firepower to blast him out Taylor admitted that his side's best chance of removing the Indian captain could be to maintain their own discipline and hope that he makes an error. "When the wicket's flat it seems nearly impossible [to get Kohli out]. He's a class player and he's done it against the best teams in the world, but we just need to keep it simple to him and hopefully try and frustrate him and let him make his own mistakes."
Zimbabwe trained for several hours on the eve of the second match, with Raza turning up early for some one-on-one practice with Grant Flower. It's clear that they want very badly to succeed, and it's hard to overstate just how crucial success in this series and the ones against Pakistan and Sri Lanka is.
"The importance of the next two or three months is huge and that's what we keep discussing," said Taylor. "It's up to us players to try to contribute to getting the public back in and getting sponsors back in so it's a big time for us and a couple of good results against the best side in the world can only do us some good."
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape TownFeeds: Liam Brickhill
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Plays of the day from the 4th ODI between England and India at Edgbaston