India’s Tour Of Zimbabwe 2015: What are the Five Takeaways for Ajinkya Rahane and Co.?

India’s tour of Zimbabwe 2015, comprising of a three-match One-Day International (ODI) series and two T20Is, looked in doubt after it was revealed that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was unhappy with Ten Sports broadcasting the series. Therefore, the issue had to be resolved between the two parties, before India could go ahead with the planned series following their shock (at the time, that is) 1-2 ODI series defeat to Bangladesh in June.

It was during the last week of June, that the BCCI confirmed India’s participation in the series, with Sandip Patil and Co. then going on to pick a 16-man squad for what was always going to be a low-key tour. It was a full strength Indian side that toured Bangladesh last month and failed to play to even half its potential, in the solitary Test match and 3 One-Dayers. And there were very few positives to come out of India’s performances throughout, with Ravichandran Ashwin being the only star performer to emerge out of the short tour.

It was not unexpected that the Indian selection committee would rest a few senior players, and give the youngsters, along with a few deserved players, a chance to feature for the national side in the series against Zimbabwe.

It was, however, rather surprising to see the kind of squad that was picked for the tour, and more devastatingly Ajinkya Rahane, who had harshly been dropped from the playing XI for the final two ODIs against Bangladesh, appointed as the captain in MS Dhoni’s absence. Manish Pandey, the Karnataka top-order batsman, and Sandeep Sharma, the Punjab seamer, received their respective maiden call-ups to the national side while the likes of Sanju Samson, Harbhajan Singh and Manoj Tiwary were also picked for the tour that had Ravindra Jadeja missing out on a spot once again.

India’s squad for Zimbabwe’s tour: Rahane (C) Robin Uthappa (WK), Murali Vijay, Harbhajan, Axar Patel, Ambati Rayudu, Pandey, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Samson, Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep, Dhawal Kulkarni and Stuart Binny.

Despite being a low-key series, it turned out to be more than a challenge for the visitors who, despite winning the ODI series 3-0, had to work hard for a majority of the series against a spirited Zimbabwe side led by Elton Chigumbura. After completing a whitewash in the ODIs, India won the first of the two T20Is, but failed to win the series and finished off their tour on a losing note. From India’s perspective, what can they take away from their performances?

Read on…

Rahane didn’t do himself any favors, as a batsman

Though he was made the captain for India’s tour of Zimbabwe, Rahane’s priority would surely have been to rack up a few big scores with the bat and, more than anything else, get his confidence back. He surely struggled in the first ODI against Bangladesh, scoring a 25-ball 9 and exuding a total lack of batting rhythm. This, therefore, was a series to gain confidence and secondly, a chance to better his record in ODIs for India.

I was not impressed by his decision to open the batting with Vijay, given that his batting position is at No.4 when India play their full strength playing XI. Rahane, before departing to the African country, did claim that he had taken Dhoni’s comment┬ápositively, and that he will strive to get more consistent in the 50-over format. But all of it needed to happen in the middle order, and not at the top, as an opener. I think the Mumbai batsman made a wrong decision.

Second and, perhaps, the most important aspect was to anchor the Indian innings and play one significant knock, at least, in the five games overall on the tour. The diminutive right-hander, batting at his preferred position, didn’t manage to do that either, as he, with his best batting performance of the tour (a 63) in the second ODI, scored only 149 runs in the five innings – the three One-Dayers and two T20Is – he batted for the Men in Blue. His strike rate in the three ODIs was 72.72, which is too low and indicative of him lacking fluency, although he could argue that India batted first in all the games and it was difficult to go all guns blazing against the new, white Kookaburra ball, on pitches which assisted the seamers.

Rahane, more than anyone of us, would be disappointed with the type of series he endured, especially at a time when his style of batting in the ODIs has been questioned and other batsmen are vying for his batting spot in the Indian middle order.

The Indian middle order ruled the roost throughout the tour

This was probably the tale of Zimbabwe v India 2015, in which the middle order time and again rescued their side out of tight corners.

Rayudu was the instigator for the 2011 ICC World Cup winners, scoring a match-winning 124 (133) in the 1st ODI while being involved in that 160-run stand with Binny, who notched up his career best score of 77 (76). India were in doldrums at 87-5 when this duo came together, but they complemented each other well and made sure that their side put up a respectable score on the board.

Rahane and Vijay gave India a very good start in the second ODI – with a very good partnership of 112 for the first wicket – ┬ábut the aforementioned duo of Rayudu and Binny once again made important contributions – 41 (50) and 25 (16), respectively – in the visitors reaching 271 in 50 overs.

The final One-Dayer followed in the same vein as the first, with the hosts restricting India to 82-4 and once again finding themselves in a position of real authority. This time, however, with Pandey replacing the injured Rayudu, India had two different batting heroes – Jadhav partnering the Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) batsman – who, albeit a bit fortunate during their innings’, dug their team out of trouble and played a key role in India reaching 276. Pandey scored a valuable 71(86) while Jadhav made his maiden ODI ton – 105(87) – during a partnership of 144 that proved to be a match-winning one.

From India’s perspective, this was the marquee aspect of their tour of Zimbabwe, which has helped a couple of batsmen – Rayudu and Jadhav, with their centuries – put themselves in the frame to permanently replace Rahane in the Indian middle order. This once again will not be something that amuses the Rajasthan Royals’ opening batsman.

Binny has made a serious statement with his all-round performances

The Karnataka all-rounder has endured a tough 18-month period in the Indian side while he has played little and been carrying drinks far more than any player would like. This was yet another series – like last year’s tour of Bangladesh – that saw him feature because of the absence of the likes of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli and Ashwin.

He made his ODI debut during India’s tour of New Zealand in the beginning of 2014, but has since featured in only 13 ODIs, including the just completed 3 games against Chigumbura’s Zimbabwe. It has, therefore, been a disappointing time for the 31-year old, who, on many occasions, gives you the feeling that he could be utilized better since he is a very good batsman and definitely not an average medium pacer.

Having got the opportunity to exhibit his repertoire, I think Binny has done exceedingly well as an all-rounder, scoring over a 100 runs (120, to be precise) batting at No.6 in the ODIs and finishing as India’s highest wicket taker with 6 wickets in the 3-0 whitewash of Zimbabwe. As aforementioned, his 77 in the first ODI was priceless in a game that also saw him pick up 2-54 with the ball.

Placing the spotlight on his bowling, he will be delighted with the amount of bowling he did: 27 overs of bowling and conceding an acceptable 5.59 runs/over, showed that he played an integral part in India defending their scores successfully in the ODI series. Rahane also should be credited for the way he used Binny, who looked at ease bowling in various situations of the games.

From Binny’s perspective, having done well, he will hope for bigger things in the foreseeable future, with India facing crucial series’ against Srilanka, away from home, and South Africa at home. He, however, needs to be consistent and do just as well against more significant and talented opposition.

Bhuvneshwar was back to his best after a poor series against Bangladesh

The Uttar Pradesh seamer has endured a tough 8-month period that has seen him play very little, especially during India’s tour of Australia and route to the ICC 2015 World Cup semifinals, as a result of the ankle injury he picked up at the beginning of the tour Down Under last December.

He also experienced a tough tour of Bangladesh, in which he was dropped for the solitary Test and then played only in the first couple of One-Dayers, picking two wickets and going at 5.75 runs/over, which is significantly more than his ODI career economy of 4.55.

The series against Zimbabwe, like for many of his teammates, was a chance to find his bowling rhythm. He was once again the leader of the Indian pace attack and therefore, it was always going to be a test of his credentials, albeit against a lesser opposition.

Despite Rayudu and Binny’s heroics with the bat in the first ODI, it was Bhuvneshwar’s crucial bowling at the death, that won India the game Chigumbura was threatening to win it for his side. With the hosts needing 10 runs to win off the last over, Bhuvneshwar was entrusted with the task of winning the game for India, and he excelled in finding the block hole on a consistent basis, depriving the Zimbabwe captain the room to free his arms, like he was able to against the likes of Kulkarni.

He finished with figures of 10-1-35-1 in the first ODI, and then followed it up with a scintillating performance in the second One-Dayer that saw him pick up Zimbabwe’s batting mainstays in Hamilton Masakadza and Chigumbura and finish with simply fabulous bowling figures of 10-3-33-4. He finished the 3-match ODI series with figures of 26-5-80-5 (at an economy of 3.07), and such an effort will surely be of great satisfaction to India’s swing king.

He probably has lost a bit of swing from the time when he started playing for India, but Bhuvneshwar’s performances against Zimbabwe were close to perfect. Harbhajan, Mohit and Axar bowled well, too, but Bhuvneshwar, without a shadow of doubt, was the standout bowler in the series, let alone for India.

India were helped by Zimbabwe’s failure to harness the chances provided

While you could applaud India for the way they dug themselves out of trouble time and time again, except in the final T20I, Zimbabwe’s ineptitude to kill games off also needs to be taken into account.

In the first ODI, they had India on the mat at 87-5 after winning the toss and choosing to bowl first. Through Rayudu and Binny, India got up to 255-6, which was not a comfortable score to defend but Zimbabwe, like Bangladesh did against India, needed their batting to come to the party. Chigumbura, with his inspirational 104*, looked like he was single-handedly going to take his side over the line in the first ODI, but the lack of support from his batting partners proved to be their undoing; in the end, it surely must have been a bitter pill to swallow given that they had run their illustrious opponents so close.

India registered bigger margins of victories – by 62 and 83 runs, in the second and third ODIs respectively – after the hard-fought win in the first game, and it was all down to Zimbabwe’s batting struggles, primarily, and the bowling attack’s ineptitude to close the innings out when they had opportunities to do so.

In the second T20, they played as a unit and although their batting lineup didn’t put up a massive total – 145 – on the board, the bowling attack, led by Chris Mpofu, managed to induce the Indian batsmen into playing false strokes and pick wickets at crucial stages of the innings.

Zimbabwe, had they batted better, might have made a better fist of it against what was not all that strong an Indian side. Also, Chigumbura’s persistence to win the toss and bowl first in all three One-Dayers was a bit disappointing. India’s batting had its own struggles, which was very much palpable in their showing in the first ODI, and, despite that, the Zimbabwe captain didn’t think of testing them out by batting first and putting up a total on the board, at least in the inconsequential 3rd One-Dayer. I don’t think it makes sense to compare India’s batting capitulation in the final T20I with any of their showings in the ODIs, as they are two different formats of the game and maybe, it was India’s desperation to complete the chase of 146 in a canter and subsequently playing too many outrageous shots, that did them in.

In hindsight, India will be happy with the way things went for most of their tour.

Final Thought

Uthappa and Tiwary were the disappointments for India with the bat, though the Karnataka batsman fared well in the two T20Is. Both these batsmen faced plenty of deliveries throughout the tour, but never looked comfortable at the crease and from their point of view, it is a chance squandered. Shifting focus, however, Harbhajan was good with the ball, as he persisted with an outside the off-stump line and looked far more threatening than Axar, who finished the tour with 9 wickets to his name. The Indian bowling attack fared well overall, with Mohit, Sandeep and Kulkarni also getting amongst the wickets after a tough tour of Bangladesh last month.

India’s major positives are that of the batting forms of Rayudu, Jadhav and Pandey, all of whom made the most of their opportunities against Zimbabwe and scored heavily. Binny, in particular, and Bhuvneshwar, like the aforementioned batting trio, enjoyed a very good tour, as well.


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