India saunter to series victory
India 187 for 3 (Kohli 68*) beat Zimbabwe 183 (Williams 45, Mishra 4-47) by seven wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
India's current tour of Zimbabwe has parallels with the visit to the southern African country for a tri-series in 2010 - a squad filled with newcomers led by a stand-in captain. Three years ago, that young India team had found the tri-series to be a taxing trek, losing three of four matches to crash out before the finals. This time around, though, it has been a casual stroll to a series victory, confirmed by an utterly one-sided third ODI which Zimbabwe lost by seven wickets.
Teams winning the toss have enjoyed a huge advantage in this series, and today was no different as Virat Kohli called correctly and watched his bowlers wipe out Zimbabwe for 183. Even reaching that meagre score reflected a recovery for Zimbabwe, who had been at 89 for 6 in the 23rd over, and had three tail-enders, who had shown little aptitude for batting, to come. Amit Mishra's variations fetched him four wickets, and the chase was orchestrated by Kohli, who continues to find ODI cricket exceedingly easy.
The winter pitch at the Harare Sports Club has followed the same pattern in every match this series: assisting the seamers appreciably in the first hour before gradually easing up. Vusi Sibanda clearly hadn't learnt that, though, charging out and attempting a wild heave in the first over itself, predictably edging a catch towards extra cover. After that Vinay Kumar strike, it was Mohammed Shami's turn to break through, on his first ball, when he got Sikandar Raza to nick to the wicketkeeper.
With the ball hooping around, Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza survived a bunch of lbw calls and were routinely beaten but hung on. Taylor could have been run-out a couple of times but he didn't attempt any risky shots, the first sign of enterprise being a controlled pull for four off Vinay in the ninth over. Masakadza was content driving through the off side, didn't play across the line much, and the pair shepherded Zimbabwe to the relative security of 67 for 2 in the 16th over.
The first hour had been seen off, and Zimbabwe were looking forward to more comfortable batting conditions. However, Jaydev Unadkat, India's best seamer in the previous game, ended the stand, getting Taylor to chip a catch to mid-off.
Then, the India spinners took over. Zimbabwe have poked and prodded against them, regularly beset by doubts over how much the ball will spin and in which direction. Mishra's mix of legspinners, googlies, sliders and seam-up deliveries have proved too much for Zimbabwe and he has prospered in his first stint in the ODI team in two years. He continued to enjoy himself today as in his first over, he had Masakadza caught-behind and trapped Malcolm Waller lbw to be on a hat-trick. He didn't get one but the double-blow wrecked Zimbabwe's chances of making a big score.
Sean Williams and Prosper Utseya arrested the slide with a 36-run stand but Williams seemed to lose his composure once Utseya fell in the 33rd over. He looked to take as much of the strike as he could, given that Tendai Chatara, Brian Vitori and Michael Chinouya are not known for their batting skills. In a gamble to retain the strike, he took on a throw from Ravindra Jadeja at midwicket, but the powerful and accurate return caught him short.
A quick end to the Zimbabwe innings seemed imminent but the bottom three weren't about to throw their wickets away. Chatara's hook for six off Vinay was the highlight as the tail extended Zimbabwe's innings by more than 11 overs before Mishra returned to polish them off.
Faced with a small target and a placid pitch, India weren't too troubled during the chase, and there were never any doubts over which side was heading for victory. Rohit Sharma played a few eye-catching strokes before falling cheaply for the third time in the series. His opening partner Shikhar Dhawan looked set to extend his recent golden run as he feasted on the loose deliveries on offer, but after racing to 35 off 31, he crashed a length ball straight to cover. Ambati Rayudu was slow to start but just as he got going, he chipped a return catch on 33.
Unlike the others, Kohli didn't throw it away. He was edgy to begin with, but calmly worked the singles early on and with the asking-rate never too far from three an over, he was content to coast along. It was only towards the end, with the result almost guaranteed, that he opened out and hurried India past the finish line, completing their sixth successive ODI victory.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo