Saturday, June 12 and 13, 2010
Start time 1300 (1100 GMT)
The Big Picture
So far this tour has been a misadventure for India. The experiment with rotation went awry during the tri-series, with the selectors sending a squad unbalanced in both experience and skill. The manner in which they lost their games, especially against the hosts, has led to doubts over the quality of India's next line of cricketers.
The visitors have two games to salvage the tour, and build some confidence for the players headed to Sri Lanka for the Asia Cup. Can their batsmen shrug away their inhibitions and hit out in IPL-like conditions that won't test their vulnerability against the short ball? Can their inexperienced fast bowlers pull one back on the Zimbabwe top order that bullied them in the ODIs?
The hosts go into the series with fewer doubts. In the Twenty20 format, against this second-string India outfit, they will believe they are favourites. From the time they shocked Australia in the inaugural World Twenty20, Zimbabwe have been regarded with caution in the shortest format.
Their army of spinners has perfected the art of asphyxiation, and in recent times they have surprised West Indies, followed by victories in 2010 World Twenty20 warm-up games against Australia and Pakistan. Despite being thumped by Sri Lanka in the tri-series final, the hosts are on the ascendancy following their strong show in the league games. If they can trump India again, it will be a major boost to their ongoing quest to reclaim past glory.
The forecast promises clear skies on Saturday, which also plays into Zimbabwe's hands: their batsmen struggled in overcast conditions during the tri-series, and their spinners are most effective when it is dry. Things could get interesting on Sunday though, with a 40% chance of showers.
Form guide (most recent first)
Zimbabwe LLWWL India LLLWW
Watch out for...
Rohit Sharma's twin hundreds in the ODIs have silenced some of his critics, but doubts remain over his temperament, fitness and consistency. Runs in this series could go some way in addressing them and in sealing a spot in the starting XI for the Asia Cup.
Brendan Taylor was unstoppable in the tri-series, and will look to loot some more runs over the weekend. The protagonist of Zimbabwe's finest moment in the Twenty20 format has taken a liking to India's inexperienced fast bowlers, so the visitors may open with a spinner against him. R Ashwin was impeccable with the new ball in the IPL, and may well be India's answer to Taylor.
Somehow, the selectors have managed to make India's squad even more unbalanced, by including Piyush Chawla at the expense of a fast bowler. India now have four spinners to choose from, in addition to two spinning allrounders, of whom Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha will expect to make the cut. The seamers were uniformly unimpressive in the ODIs, and it could be a toss-up between Umesh Yadav, Ashok Dinda and Pankaj Singh for two spots. Lack of options could force the side to field Dinesh Karthik and Yusuf Pathan, both notable exclusions for the Asia Cup.
India (possible) 1 M Vijay, 2 Dinesh Karthik/Naman Ojha (wk), 3 Suresh Raina (capt), 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Rohit Sharma, 6 Yusuf Pathan, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Pragyan Ojha, 10 and 11 Two out of Ashok Dinda, Umesh Yadav and Pankaj Singh.
Zimbabwe may decide to bench Chris Mpofu and resort to their spin-heavy strategy. In that event, they will like to have Andy Blignaut's back in the scheme of things.
Zimbabwe (possible) 1 Hamilton Masakadza, 2 Brendan Taylor, 3 Tatenda Taibu (wk) 4 Charles Coventry, 5 Andy Blignaut, 6 Craig Ervine, 7 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 8 Graeme Cremer, 9 Prosper Utseya, 10 Greg Lamb, 11 Ray Price.
Stats and trivia
This will be the first clash between these two sides in the Twenty20 format. So far India have 12 wins and 11 defeats, while Zimbabwe have only played ten games, winning three of them.
Suresh Raina is one of only four centurions in T20Is, the others being Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum and Mahela Jayawardene. Of the four, only Raina's did not come from the opening slot.
"We haven't looked good throughout the tournament. We were unconvincing and I am not happy at all." Will Suresh Raina's team give him reason to end the tour on a cheerful note?
"It is very satisfying to get where we have, the guys have worked hard. Everybody did well in the series and we expect to move forward step by step from here." Zimbabwe have come a long way, but Brendan Taylor is hungry for more.