Over the years, the series in Zimbabwe has always featured limited-overs matches played post-IPL where the BCCI sends its second-string outfits to test the bench strength.
The second string outfits have, in fact, effected back-to-back whitewashes 5-0 and 3-0 in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
It was supposed to be no different this time around as well. The squad of 15 comprises as many as five uncapped players (including KL Rahul, who is yet to make his limited-overs debut) but it has gained special significance because of Dhoni, who will be playing in the African nation after 11 long years.
The last time when Dhoni played in Zimbabwe back in 2005, his international career was barely six months old and a certain Sourav Ganguly was still in charge of the ‘Men In Blue’. But now the situation is different post his retirement from Test cricket and Virat Kohli’s Bradmanesque form in the past six months leading to calls of his removal from captaincy.
While he may not be battling to save his captaincy yet but tours like the one about to start in Zimbabwe are the proverbial ‘banana peel’ for any top cricketer. A series win will never be feted as it is something that everyone expects to be accomplished but at the same time any unexpected result will send the kind of shock waves that the Jharkhand dasher just would not fancy at the moment.
If one has a look at the team, the gulf between Dhoni and the rest of the squad will stare at anyone who cares. While Dhoni has played a total of 275 ODIs, the rest of the squad cumulatively has 83 matches to their credit. Also if one takes away Ambati Rayudu (31 matches) and Axar Patel (22)’s participation, the seven others have a total of 30 matches to their names. More so, save for KL Rahul, none of the other youngsters in this team will be boarding the flight to West Indies for the Test series.
Most of the players selected are by no means in the scheme of things once the first team players come back but someone like Manish Pandey knows that it will be an opportunity for him to stake claim to Suresh Raina’s place when India will be playing their real first XI in future. Ditto for Karun Nair, who will look to translate his decent IPL form into good scores in international games.
For Axar, it is an opportunity to show the critics that he is more than just a one-dimensional spinner while Rayudu will also be itching to regain his lost confidence post the home series against South Africa last year. Dhoni has always had a liking for potent left-arm bowlers in his team and the skipper won’t mind if Barinder Sran -- after a decent IPL -- can prove to be at least 35 to 40 percent of the bowler that Ashish Nehra has been for India in limited overs cricket.
Speedster Jasprit Bumrah, who has been Dhoni’s ‘Go To’ bowler in recent T20 Internationals, with his lethal yorkers, is again expected to shoulder the burden of being the strike bowler. Similarly Dhawal Kulkarni will aim to cash in on his IPL form.
Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal’s performance will also be closely monitored after a fantastic IPL as Amit Mishra has not exactly been favoured in the shorter versions. This brings one to off-spinner Jayant Yadav, left-handed opener Faiz Fazal and right-handed middle-order batsman Mandeep Singh -- all decent domestic performers in their own rights. It will be interesting to see who among them can catch the skipper’s attention and get their maiden India ODI cap.
The match starts at 12:30 pm (IST).