Dhawan, Karthik set up comfortable win
India 294 for 8 (Dhawan 116, Karthik 69) beat Zimbabwe 236 for 9 (Sibanda 55, Utseya 52*, Unadkat 4-41) by 58 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Zimbabwe were expected to provide stiffer opposition to India if the toss went in their favour. It did, and twice, once each with ball and bat, Zimbabwe were in dominating positions. Holding on to them was something different, though, and both times, they fell apart, first against Shikhar Dhawan and Dinesh Karthik, and then, via a batting collapse.
Zimbabwe's bowlers had a clear opportunity to embarrass India, who realised how difficult it was to bat first at Harare Sports Club with the 9am start. Four of their top five batsmen had fallen cheaply, but the one who hadn't, Dhawan, made Zimbabwe pay for letting him get away three times. Dhawan made his third century in 17 ODIs, and revived India in a 167-run fifth-wicket partnership with Karthik, who made only his second fifty after comeback.
Had the Zimbabwe quicks shown more control, and had their fielders caught better, India would have been in a bigger hole. Dhawan played possibly the most charmed innings of his short international career. He was caught behind off a Kyle Jarvis no-ball when on 3, dropped by the wicketkeeper off the same bowler when on 14 and handed a third life on 70 when deep square leg misjudged what should have been a straightforward catch. To his credit, Dhawan did not let anything loose go waste despite all the wickets and all the chances.
Apart from sending down numerous wides and no-balls, Zimbabwe often bowled on the pads to Dhawan, who picked up several boundaries through the leg side - pulling, whipping, nudging and lofting. Just after the costly no-ball to Dhawan, Jarvis conceded four leg-byes, and also gave the batsman overpitched deliveries outside off stump, which were driven for fours.
Dhawan was losing partners quickly, though. The same batsmen who could have hardly been bothered in the chase on Wednesday were made to struggle. The new balls swung, seamed, bounced, and skidded. Brian Vitori struck with his first ball, after having been left out in the first game. Rohit Sharma, having said just before his 100th ODI started that one needed to be careful against the new balls as an opener, chased a widish good length ball, and edged to slip.
Virat Kohli, coming off a match-winning hundred, looked largely solid before he pushed Jarvis to mid-on, departing in anger after twice asking for the third umpire to check whether the ball had carried. Ambati Rayudu was brought crashing down from his debut half-century in a painful 25-ball existence during which he was put down by the bowler Vitori and was beaten on numerous occasions. For once, Suresh Raina - who has made no secret of his desire to bat up the order - had plenty of overs, but nudged his 11th delivery down the leg side to the keeper.
At 65 for 4, Dhawan looked intent to make good use of his lives and Karthik was in superb touch. Unlike the top order, Karthik left deliveries for a while outside off and waited for the bad balls. Both Dhawan and Karthik ensured the lone spinner, Prosper Utseya, was taken for runs.
India's charge was arrested suddenly when Karthik was run out after a mix-up in the 43rd over, and Dhawan dragged an attempted sweep onto his stumps in the 44th. Zimbabwe were to pay for their slow over-rate, though. Taylor used Sean Williams' part-time spin for the last over, which was taken for 23 by Vinay Kumar and Mohammed Shami.
Zimbabwe pushed India with the bat as well early, but again, could not hold onto a strong position. And once more, it was Vusi Sibanda who threw away another start after dominating the bowlers with powerful hits. Four balls later, Brendan Taylor ran himself out. Soon, it became a flood. Williams, Hamilton Masakadza and Malcolm Waller fell to the spinners to make it 133 for 6.
Only a few overs ago, Sibanda was pulling boundaries at will as India's quick bowlers overdid the short ball on a pitch which had eased out considerably. Vinay Kumar, in particular, was targetted. Sibanda's second-wicket partnership with Masakadza was worth 64 at close to seven an over and the India bowlers were looking flat.
The situation quickly changed when Unadkat was brought back in the 21st over. Sibanda, who had reached his fifty off 57, immediately went after him, but mishit to midwicket. Panic set in with Taylor's run-out, and Zimbabwe had only themselves to blame for a big defeat, though Prosper Utseya and Elton Chigumbura reduced the margin.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo