Friday, July 10
Start time 9.00 am local time (0700 GMT)
In comparison to the Ashes hype that greeted Australia's arrival in England, the build-up to India's short tour of Zimbabwe has seemed distinctly provincial. It has not helped that a number of the Indian players are virtually unknown to Zimbabwe's cricket-watching public. The absence of several seniors from this side will also bring these two teams, from opposite ends of cricket's spectrum, a little closer together. Friday's ODI is the first in what could be a competitive series.
Which is not to say that India aren't still favourites, and there's plenty to motivate this group. The seven members of the squad who were also present during the one-day defeats to Bangladesh will sense an opportunity to move on. There is a middle-order position up for grabs in the side, a handful of keen young bowlers, and clear value to be gained from a good tour for players such as Stuart Binny and M Vijay.
Zimbabwe, on the other hand, were eminently watchable against Pakistan in May and even without Brendan Taylor, the batsmen have shown themselves to be a dynamic unit who could profit from an inexperienced Indian bowling attack, with the exception of Harbhajan Singh. Zimbabwe's own bowling attack is missing the key figure of Tendai Chatara, who is still recuperating from a broken leg, though the conditions will probably favour slower bowlers anyway.
With so much cricket planned for the remainder of the year, this series marks an important starting point for Zimbabwe. A competitive showing here could set them up nicely to meet the challenges to come in the next few months. This will also be the first match under the new ODI playing conditions, which do away with compulsory close catchers in the first 10 overs, remove the batting Powerplay, allow five fielders outside the 30-yard circle in the last 10 overs of an ODI innings and Free Hits for all no-balls.
In the spotlight
Stuart Binny's IPL performances suggest a player capable of fulfilling India's search for an ODI allrounder, but at 31, he has only played 10 ODIs. Time is running out for Binny to cement his place in India's side in the long term, and these matches could provide a necessary platform for him to showcase his talent with bat and ball.
Sikandar Raza's role in Zimbabwe's one-day side has undergone something of a metamorphosis. He started off as an opener but he has been moved down the order into a finishing role, and made a century batting at No. 5 in Pakistan. His offspin bowling, once modestly part-time, has also progressed and he'll have an all-round role to play in any Zimbabwean success.
Craig Ervine's hamstring niggle has kept him out of contention for a slot in Zimbabwe's middle order, but there are still a number of batsmen vying for a position there. Malcolm Waller looked in good form during Zimbabwe's practice matches last week, while Regis Chakabva and Richmond Mutumbami are jostling for the solitary wicketkeeping slot, and staked an equal claim by sharing a century partnership during the practice matches, with Mutumbami being the incumbent.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Vusi Sibanda, 2 Chamu Chibhabha, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Elton Chigumbura, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 8 Prosper Utseya, 9 Graeme Cremer, 10 Tinashe Panyangara, 11 Brian Vitori.
With so many empty slots to fill, India have plenty of freedom in the assembly of their playing XI. Manoj Tiwary's experience in the position means he'll probably open with M Vijay, while the presence of Stuart Binny provides balance to the bowling attack.
India (probable): 1 Murali Vijay, 2 Manoj Tiwary, 3 Ajinkya Rahane (captain), 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Manish Pandey, 6 Robin Uthappa (wk), 7 Stuart Binny, 8 Axar Patel, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Dhawal Kulkarni
Pitch and conditions
Winter pitches in Zimbabwe tend to be very dry, and often play slow and low. Local knowledge suggests there may not be a huge amount of turn, but that spinners will still play a leading role in restricting scoring. That's not to say that the quicks will have nothing to do - the very early starts to these games mean that during the first hour the ball will still nip and seam around.
Stats and trivia>
- Zimbabwe's squad has played a combined 986 one-day internationals. India's ODI experience tallies up at 479.
- India and Zimbabwe have met 57 times in ODIs, with India winning 45 and Zimbabwe 10. There have been two tied matches between the teams.
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Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town