Once was Zimbabwe cricket. Now it's just a carcass, almost like a country starting anew after a bloody war. World cricket looked healthy when Zimbabwe were healthy. A team comprising Heath Streak, Flower brothers, Alistair Campbell, Paul Strang, Neil Johnson, Murray Goodwin, Henry Olonga, Guy Whittall and Stuart Carlisle at the bottom of the pile was not a bad sign at all. In the mid-to-late nineties, this team threatened the notion of minnows. A decade later, they have just about started rising from the shambles and have already hit the first roadblock - Prosper Utseya's resignation from captaincy under mysterious circumstances.
By no means is this tri-series top-flight international cricket: it features two other teams who should by now be sick of playing each other, that too massively under-par because of rested players. Nonetheless, it is international cricket, it is being played in Zimbabwe, and that should be cause for celebration, cause for looking forward to whether the game still enjoys a following in the country.
As far as India is concerned, Zimbabwe is remembered as the place where Sourav Ganguly and Greg Chappell embarked upon a rather harmonious captain-coach journey. That was five years ago, and no such drama is expected this time. None of the players from that tour have made the trip this time around. Some, like Irfan Pathan, have taken their personal careers down the Zimbabwe route. Some, like Harbhajan Singh who recently helped Zimbabwe get proper kits, have been rested. It only promises closer contests. India, led by young Suresh Raina who's yet to play a Test, against Zimbabwe, charged by their battery of strangulating spinners, who have everything to gain.
Form guide (most recent first)
Zimbabwe LLLLW India LWWLW
Watch out for...
Weeks after the coach Alan Butcher raised a mild disciplinary question about him, Elton Chigumbura finds himself leading the side, following Utseya's resignation. He is one of the most cleanest hitters in the side, and he now has a very important responsibility.
Raina is an unlikely captain too, keeping the seat warm for a resting MS Dhoni. He promises a more eager, energetic performance from the young side he is leading, something his own play does too.
On the slow and low pitches in the West Indies, Zimbabwe were used to playing a line-up full of spinners, with Chigumbura to bowl some seam-up. Here they could get Chris Mpofu in.
Zimbabwe (possible) 1 Vusi Sibanda, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Charles Coventry, 4 Brendan Taylor, 5 Tatenda Taibu (wk), 6 Elton Chigumbura (capt.), 7 Andy Blignaut, 8 Greg Lamb, 9 Graeme Cremer/Prosper Utseya, 10 Chris Mpofu, 11 Ray Price.
India, too, should rely mainly on their spinners, including part-timers like Ravindra Jadeja, whose career ODI economy-rate of 4.90 is in stark contrast with his performance in the World Twenty20 (9.75).
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 R Ashwin/Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Vinay Kumar, 9 Amit Mishra, 10 Pragyan Ojha, 11 Umesh Yadav.
Stats and trivia
Zimbabwe have won only one out of their last 11 ODIs. Four of those losses have come against Bangladesh.
At 23 years 182 days, Raina will become the ninth-youngest man to captain an ODI side. He has played 90 ODIs without a Test cap, overtaking the Indian record for 73 ODIs before Test debut, held by Yuvraj Singh. By the end of the tri-series, he should have at least equalled Andrew Symonds' world record - 94.
"The tour will be an opportunity to learn and press for a regular berth in the ODIs and stake a claim at the highest level - Test cricket." Suresh Raina is looking forward to the tournament.
"This is a real tough two weeks for us as we try to re-establish ourselves as a top cricket country. We have done pretty well in the last couple of months and are keen to continue." Elton Chigumbura knows the importance of the tournament.