Testing bench strength focus for India
Match factsThursday, August 1, 2013
Start time 0900 (0700 GMT)
Big PictureThe young India side that won the Champions Trophy and the tri-series in the Caribbean was already without so many senior players, it was said the defending world champions already had one eye on building for the 2015 World Cup. For the short trip to Zimbabwe, the selectors picked an even more inexperienced squad, with as many as five of the 15 players having never played an ODI, including three who were still to play an international game. Further, five more players had little international experience. It is all very well saying that this trip was about testing the fringes of India's bench, but there was also the unspoken expectation - almost an assumption - that Virat Kohli would lead the side to an easy victory in his first full series as captain.
Raw side, raw captain. And three games later, Kohli has a 3-0 margin, a century and a half-century. He has also given debuts to Ambati Rayudu and Jaydev Unadkat, and stuck to them for all the three matches. Before the series moved to Bulawayo, Kohli gave himself room to experiment more with the line-up with the series already won. While it was understandable that Kohli limited himself to two debuts in Harare, despite fans' desire to see more new faces on the field, it will be self-defeating now to keep Mohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and Parvez Rasool away from ODI debuts in Bulawayo.
With India's focus ideally shifting to giving the bench a run, what's in it for Brendan Taylor and his men? Plenty, as the Zimbabwe captain pointed out after the series was lost tamely in Harare. Just getting the chance to play as many as five games against the world champions and top-ranked ODI side is huge in terms of exposure for Zimbabwe. The series gone and, with the toss usually not as important in Bulawayo as it was in Harare, they might just be able to play more freely - especially someone like Taylor, who, as Zimbabwe's best batsman, has appeared to bat under a lot of self-imposed pressure so far.
Form guideIndia WWWWW (most recent first, last five completed games)
In the spotlightJaydev Unadkat has come a long way from the teenager who was rushed into a Test debut against the might of South Africa in Centurion in December 2010. He has worked on his strength, increased the length of his run-up and ran in with energy on the unresponsive pitches of Rajkot in the Ranji Trophy. He has been the sharpest of the three India quick bowlers who have played so far, troubling batsmen with zip in his shortish deliveries. Bulawayo will offer lesser help for the bowlers, and it will be interesting to see how the 21-year-old responds.
This series has been another typical chapter added to Hamilton Masakadza's career - three starts in three innings this series and no conversions. He has fallen to the legspinner Amit Mishra each time, all three dismissals coming to loose strokes. Returns of 11, 34 and 38 are not what you expect from a senior top-order batsman in a series Zimbabwe have prepared so hard for. Can he get at least one big score before the series is done? He can begin by avoiding getting out to Mishra.
Team newsIndia hardly ever give any hint about their combination at press conferences, but if one were to go by net sessions, Pujara has a bright chance of making his ODI debut. He batted for a long time on the eve of the match. Vinay Kumar did not train due to a niggle, and that could mean an opening for Mohit Sharma to make his international debut.
India (probable): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma/Cheteshwar Pujara, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Amit Mishra, 9 Mohit Sharma, 10 Jaydev Unadkat, 11 Mohammed Shami
Malcolm Waller's horror run of scores this series reads 2, 2 and 0. Timycen Maruma looks likely to play his first ODI since March 2010. He had taken a blow to the shoulder during training in Harare, but Taylor said he's fine.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Vusi Sibanda, 2 Sikandar Raza, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (capt & wk), 5 Sean Williams, 6 Timycen Maruma, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Prosper Utseya, 9 Brian Vitori, 10 Tendai Chatara, 11 Michael Chinouya
Pitch and conditionsUsually, Bulawayo is hotter and drier than Harare, making for a flatter pitch and a quicker outfield, but the wind direction changed a few days ago, bringing in cloud, cold and some wet weather from South Africa. It's unlikely that the games will be shortened by rain, but the cloud cover could make the toss more important than usual. It was cold and overcast on Tuesday, but the sun broke through around Wednesday noon. The cold breeze persisted, though.
The Queens Sports Club pitch appeared dry and had a few cracks, and could play slow.
Stats and trivia
- Brendan Taylor's highest score in nine ODI innings this year is 39
- Fourteen ODI totals in excess of 300 have been scored in Bulawayo as opposed to seven in Harare
Quotes"We encourage our boys to play freely, and if we do that we generally play our best cricket. Hopefully there's a little less pressure, and we just go out there and enjoy ourselves."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo