To say that Zimbabwe's batting woes start at the top would be an understatement. Their last century partnership for the first wicket in ODIs was way back in 2014
, when Hamilton Masakadza and Sikandar Raza added 224. Since the start of 2020, Zimbabwe have used 14 different opening combinations
- the most among all teams - with few results. Their average opening stand of 15 in this period is the second worst
Zimbabwe, though, had a good start to 2022 with Regis Chakabva
and Takudzwanashe Kaitano
adding 80 and 59 in the first two ODIs against Sri Lanka in Pallekele. But Kaitano's indifferent form saw him in and out of the XI, and Chakabva moved up and down the order, resulting in instability at the top.
Kaitano returned for the second ODI against India and looked happy to bide his time against the new ball before fiddling at one outside off to be out for 7 off 32 balls. Chakabva, who has opened in 24 of his 53 ODI innings, batted at No. 6 in the first match and No. 4 in the second to bolster the middle order. But now with the experienced Sean Williams also back in the side, Zimbabwe could try reuniting him with Kaitano to solve their top-order woes.
In both ODIs, India opted to bowl after winning the toss to exploit seam-friendly conditions. But now having sealed the three-match series, they may want to put their batters to the test if they win the toss once again. KL Rahul, who is playing his first series since IPL 2022, could also do with some time in the middle ahead of the Asia Cup, which starts next week.
Zimbabwe LLLWW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
In 2022, Sikandar Raza
has scored 500 runs in 11 innings at an average of 55.55. His tally includes two successive centuries against Bangladesh earlier this month, helping Zimbabwe hunt down targets on both occasions. Against India, the onus was once again on Raza to ensure Zimbabwe put up a fight. However, the Indian seamers unsettled him in the first ODI, and then Axar Patel managed to keep him on a leash in the second. Still, Raza will be the key for the hosts in the final game and will have a chance to end the series on a high.
In the absence of senior bowlers, Mohammed Siraj
has been impressive. He has used swing and seam well to keep the batters quiet, while also taking them by surprise with high-paced, short-pitched bowling. He has gone wicketless only once in his nine ODIs this year and has been the face of India's seam-bowling bench strength.
The big question for Zimbabwe is if they tinker with their opening combination. They could also bring in Tony Munyonga
, who had smashed 30 not out off 16 balls on his ODI debut against Bangladesh.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Takudzwanashe Kaitano, 2 Innocent Kaia, 3 Regis Chakabva (capt & wk), 4 Wessly Madhevere/Tony Munyonga, 5 Sikandar Raza, 6 Sean Williams, 7 Ryan Burl, 8 Luke Jongwe, 9 Brad Evans, 10 Victor Nyauchi, 11 Tanaka Chivanga
India (probable): 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Shikhar Dhawan/Ruturaj Gaikwad, 3 Ishan Kishan, 4 KL Rahul (capt), 5 Deepak Hooda, 6 Sanju Samson (wk), 7 Axar Patel/Shahbaz Ahmed, 8 Shardul Thakur/Deepak Chahar, 9 Mohammed Siraj, 10 Prasidh Krishna/Avesh Khan, 11 Kuldeep Yadav
Another cool morning is in store in Harare. So, expect the seamers to get assistance early on with the new ball.
"My aim is to go for wickets when the new ball is swinging. And then to bowl in consistent areas, string in the dots and bowl maidens when it is not."
Mohammed Siraj spells out his bowling mantra for ODI cricket