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Series Preview - India tour of Zimbabwe 2022: India look to fine-tune for T20 WC against resurgent Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's Sikandar Raza celebrates
Zimbabwe's Sikandar Raza celebrates
©AFP
 

An ODI series between the third and 13th ranked teams barely two months before a T20 World Cup ordinarily will not assume much significance but that may not be the case when India clash with hosts Zimbabwe in Harare from the 18th of this month.

While the visitors will be keenly observing the performance of a few key players making a comeback into the national colours on the tour, the series becomes important for the hosts who are racing against time for a direct entry to the 50-over World Cup in India next year. A second-rung Indian team without many of their top stars will still start as favourites given the strength and pedigree of their bench-strength. But it won't be a cake walk for the Men in Blue against a confident Zimbabwe unit coming off the back of two successive series wins against Bangladesh at home. 


INDIA
The series in Zimbabwe, albeit in the 50-over format, will give India the opportunity to fine-tune their combination for the T20 World Cup Down Under in October and November. While a large part of the Asia Cup squad will also be on the flight to Australia, there are a few spots still up for grabs. Deepak Hooda had a fine IPL this season and also showed his prowess with the bat in the limited opportunities for India - he has an aggregate of 274 runs in seven T20I innings at a strike rate of 161.17 including a scintillating hundred against Ireland. Hooda also has a stupendous record in List A cricket with an average of 38 and strike rate of 94. Another high impact performance from number 3 and it will make it hard for the selectors to not include him in the playing XI at that position in the Asia Cup. Where will that leave Virat Kohli? 

The tour will also be very significant for two men making their return into the Indian contingent. KL Rahul last represented India in any format in February this year and despite the run-machine he has been in the IPL and for the country in limited-overs cricket, questions are being raised about his fitness and lack of match practice ahead of the mega event in Australia. Rahul has an average of 46.68 and strike rate of 88.61 in ODI cricket with five hundreds in 41 innings and is the leading run-getter in the IPL since 2018.

New-ball specialist, Deepak Chahar will also be making his first appearance for the country in over six months. The right-arm medium-fast is known for his ability to swing and seam the white ball in the powerplay and returned with the maximum wickets in the first six overs in IPL 2019 and 2020. Chahar, with 41 dismissals, is amongst the leading wicket-takers in all T20 cricket in the powerplay since 2019. With injuries to Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel, the Indian selectors might just want to keep Chahar, who is on standby for the Asia Cup, in the mix for the World Cup.

It will also be interesting to see the batting strategy adopted by skipper Rahul in the series who has downplayed the importance of 'strike rate' in the past. India have tasted massive success with their new aggressive template in the powerplay under the leadership of Rohit Sharma and are almost certain to continue with their runs-first-wickets-second approach - from looking at a T20 match as a reduced version of a 50-over game, India now look at ODI cricket as an extension of T20 cricket and will approach the Zimbabwe series with that mindset. They would need Rahul - the aggressor at the top of the order should he open the innings and not the anchor and accumulator who tends to go into his shell.

Shubman Gill and Prasidh Krishna will be two other Indian players to watch out for in the series. Gill was the Player of the Series in the ODI leg in the Caribbean with scores of 64 (53 balls), 43 (49 balls) and 98 not out (98 balls) in the three matches. More than the runs he scored it was the rate at which he scored them which stood out in the series. Krishna has had a fine start for India in ODI cricket and his wicket-taking prowess stands out - the lanky pacer has bagged 21 wickets in just 12 matches at a strike rate of 28.


ZIMBABWE

The series is a part of the ICC World Cup Super League and a good showing by the hosts can give them some valuable rating points to move up in the table. All-rounder Sikandar Raza was their highest impact player in the 2-1 ODI triumph against Bangladesh - he had an aggregate of 252 in the series with two hundreds while also returning with five wickets. The 36-year old was also their star with the bat in the 2-1 win in the T20I leg again top-scoring with 127 runs at a strike rate of 158.75. 

Skipper Regis Chakabva, who made his ODI debut in 2008, has also been in good form and smashed a splendid 102 off just 75 deliveries in the second ODI against Bangladesh in Harare. Right-arm fast medium, Victor Nyauchi will be the mainstay with the ball and was the fourth highest wicket-taker in last season's Logan Cup (Zimbabwe's domestic 50-over tournament) with 32 wickets in seven matches.


STATS THAT MATTER

- India have won their last three bilateral ODI series. They beat West Indies 3-0 at home before going to their shores and returning with the same scoreline. They also defeated England 2-1 in the latter's own backyard.

- India have won 19 and lost 4 of their 23 matches in Zimbabwe (vs Zimbabwe). They have swept their three previous bilateral series in Zimbabwe.

- KL Rahul has an average of 56.62 and strike rate of 113.81 from number 5 whereas his numbers drop to 46.52 and 80.58 when he opens the innings for India in ODI cricket.

- Shikhar Dhawan has failed in 4 of his last 7 ODI innings and has a strike rate of just 69.96 in these matches for India.

- Kuldeep Yadav was the second-highest wicket-taker in the world between 2017 and 2019 where he bagged 99 wickets in 54 innings at an average of 24.79, strike rate of 29.8 and economy rate of 4.98.


India predicted XI: Shikhar Dhawan, Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathi, Deepak Hooda, KL Rahul, Sanju Samson, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur, Prasidh Krishna, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav.

Zimbabwe predicted XI: Tadiwanashe Marumani, Regis Chakabva, Innocent Kaia, Wessley Madhevere, Sikandar Raza, Ryan Burl, Tony Munyonga, Luke Jongwe, Victor Nayauchi, Donald Tiripano, Richard Ngarava

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