Zimbabwe v India 2016, 3rd ODI: Having Already Won the Series, Should India Make Changes to Their Playing XI?

Did you expect India to win the ODI series against Zimbabwe as easily as they have done? You probably didn’t and together, not many of us did. The Indian selection committee – headed by Sandip Patil, who is among the 57 candidates in the running to become Team India coach – picked a very raw Indian side laden with plenty of new faces. Zimbabwe’s squad, on the other hand, was a settled one, though there were some significant changes at the management level, with Makhaya Ntini and Lance Klusener, former South African cricketers, being appointed the head coach and batting coach, respectively, after Dav Whatmore was abruptly fired.

Contending with the aforementioned factors, India have bulldozed the hosts in both the ODIs, winning them by whopping nine and eight-wicket margins. The toss has gone in favour of the visitors in the first two ODIs and because of the early morning freshness, MS Dhoni has chosen to bowl first. His bowlers have responded and been assisted a little too, by some ordinary batting from Zimbabwean batsmen. Winning the toss, you got to say, has proved to be an advantage for India, whose batsmen have, therefore, not had to bat in what you can call testing conditions. However, Zimbabwe’s batsmen cannot use it as an outright excuse for their displays, which have lacked application.

With the Zimbabwe v India 2016 three-match ODI series at 0-2, experimentation would be the buzz word from the visitors’ vantage point. But, logically speaking, should there be changes to India’s playing XI for the final ODI?

Zimbabwe v India 2016, third ODI: India’s playing XI

You can be extremely happy that you are not in Dhoni’s position, which is a really dicey one. India have played with a 5-1-5 combination so far, featuring five batsmen, five proper bowlers and Dhoni. India’s bowlers have been too incisive and too consistent – factors that have paid rich dividends and made light work of the Zimbabwean batting line-up. They have restricted the hosts to 168 and 126 in the first two ODIs, and the Indian top-order has chased down those scores rather easily, losing just one and two wickets, respectively, in the process.

Only four Indian batsmen have got a hit in this series so far, with Manish Pandey facing just a ball in the series-clinching second ODI yesterday. Lokesh Rahul and Ambati Rayudu have faced the lion’s share of the balls, as India’s No. 1 and No. 3. Karun Nair failed on his ODI debut, but produced an innings of solidity – a 68-ball 39 – in the second.

When Dhoni and Sanjay Bangar, India’s coach for their tour of Zimbabwe, sit down and discuss the changes they can possibly make to India’s playing XI, the duo will find it difficult to rest any of the five batsmen – Rahul, Nair, Rayudu, Pandey, and Kedar Jadhav. They could look at resting one among Rahul and Rayudu, but resting Rahul and/or Rayudu would be harsh as well. From this duo’s perspective, they have played two good knocks and are hitting the ball well, so Rahul, who scored a 100* (115) on his ODI debut like he did on his Test debut, and Rayudu would not want to lose the rhythm and another opportunity to accumulate runs. Mind you, there are not going to be a lot of opportunities for the Indian players on this tour of Zimbabwe, in the coming months. So, all 16 players will not be happy if they play only a couple of games or return home without playing altogether.

If Dhoni and Bangar, however, do take the harsh route and rest Rahul or Rayudu, Faiz Fazal would be the automatic replacement. As a specialist opener, his exclusion from the first ODI was puzzling, but the Vidarbha left-hander can be given a game.

Coming to the bowling department, the trio of fast bowlers – Barinder Sran, Dhawal Kulkarni and Jasprit Bumrah – have taken four, four and five wickets respectively and bowled with precision. There is no reason why this trio should not be stuck with for the third ODI too. Jaydev Unadkat is the other out-and-out seamer in India’s 16-man squad, but as with the batting line-up, replacing any of the three bowlers in the name of ‘rest’ would be harsh. Bumrah’s place in the Indian side is quite secure, even for future series, and might be up for the ‘rest’ debate ahead of the third ODI, in which case Unadkat will be the obvious replacement for the Mumbai Indian.

The spin duo – Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal – have been economical and picked up two and four wickets, respectively. They have not had much of a purchase in the prevalent conditions, but Patel and Chahal have kept the Zimbabwean batsmen quite and assisted the seamers really well. Jayant Yadav, the Haryana off-spinner, could be given a chance in Patel and/or Chahal’s place, while Rishi Dhawan, as a bowling all-rounder, could also be included. Again, Dhoni and Bangar will disappoint the Patel-Chahal duo if they decide to rest them.

India’s playing XI with the possible changes for the third ODI: MS Dhoni (C &WK), L Rahul, F Fazal, M Pandey, K Jadhav, K Nair, J Yadav, B Sran, D Kulkarni, J Bumrah and Y Chahal.

India's playing XI for third ODI v Zimbabwe
MS Dhoni has a difficult job in choosing India’s playing XI for the third ODI against Zimbabwe
Image source: ESPNCricinfo

Closing Thoughts

Winning the third ODI and whitewashing Zimbabwe still has to be a priority and Dhoni’s devils have to be mindful of the opportunity. So, although changes can be made and experimentation carried out, they should not be at the expense of affecting the balance of the side. Dhoni, obviously, is in a difficult situation brought about by this being just a three-match series. But he has to get the balance of his side right while ensuring the individuals do not face disappointment.

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