Zimbabwe have lied down and taken a pummeling from India, so far in their 2016 home series against the Men in Blue. The hosts have been whitewashed in a three-match ODI series at home for the second year running, by India. Although the Zimbabwe v India 2015 ODI series ended 0-3, the hosts could hold their heads high and admit that they challenged India over the course of the series. This time around, though, India have just sauntered to an emphatic 0-3 ODI series victory and would probably be dismayed by the total lack of competition.
From Zimbabwe’s vantage point, they have to believe that India can still be beaten and the upcoming three-match Twenty20 International (T20I) series is an opportunity for them to at least rejuvenate themselves.
Logically, Graeme Cremer’s men can taste victory in the Zimbabwe v India 2016 T20I Series. We discuss the reasons in detail. Read on…
At the beginning of Zimbabwe v India 2016 series, I felt that the hosts could trouble India even in the 50-over format. The visitors’ 16-man squad was chock-a-block with new faces and I expected the pressure of “playing for places” to have an adverse effect on MS Dhoni’s devils and, in turn, benefit Zimbabwe. But luck was on Dhoni’s side, as the Indian ODI skipper won crucial tosses in the first couple of ODIs, opted to bowl first on both occasions and let his bowlers leverage the early morning freshness. The Zimbabwean batting line-up, although experienced and settled, failed to show application and first and foremost, keep the Indian new ball bowlers, Barinder Sran and Dhawal Kulkarni, at bay. They lost early wickets and made the task of India’s third, fourth and fifth bowlers easier. But the home side also failed to recover from poor starts and got into the habit of losing wickets in clusters – one of the major reasons for the ODI series loss.
Now, the upcoming T20I series is unlikely to see as much swing and seam as there was during the ODI series. The two rational reasons are the matches starting at 1:00 PM local time and the use of only one white ball compared to two in ODIs. Therefore, even if Zimbabwe bat first, they are unlikely to be tested as much as they were in the ODIs and also, the Zimbabwean batsmen can throw caution to the wind and attack the Indian bowlers.
The nature of T20 cricket allows batsmen to play freely. In ODIs, batsmen need to occupy the crease for a long time and in bowler-friendly conditions, having to occupy the crease becomes a bit of a catch-22 situation for batsmen. And Zimbabwe batsmen were affected by it during the ODIs: they could not attack Sran and Kulkarni despite this duo being fresh at the international level, because wickets had to be preserved and the conditions were in favour of the bowlers.
Now, even in the T20I series coming up, the hosts will have to bat sensibly and with a gameplan. They can beat India only by batting well and putting up competitive totals on the board. If the Zimbabwe batsmen deliver, they will keep their bowlers in the game and provide a challenge for the Indian batsmen, who haven’t been tested at all so far on this tour.
The Indian batsmen helped their team win the three ODIs by nine, eight and 10-wicket margins, but the likes of Lokesh Rahul, Ambati Rayudu and even the debutant in the final ODI, Faiz Fazal, were under no pressure whatsoever and could play at their own pace. Give them a bigger target to chase, and they will have to react accordingly. An aggressive reaction from the batsmen gives bowlers a good chance of success – and those are the sorts of elements Zimbabwe need to focus on in the T20I series starting on Saturday.
The Kulkarnis, Srans and Jasprit Bumrahs have enjoyed bowling at the Harare Sports Club during mornings, but they will have to adapt to bowling in the afternoons. As aforementioned, all three T20Is begin at 1:00 PM local time and the ball will probably not swing and seam around like it did during the ODI series. Kulkarni – and even Sran – when the ball doesn’t jag around, can be predictable with their line and length of attack. So, if the likes of Hamilton Masakadza, Vusi Sibanda, Elton Chigumbura, to name a few batsmen in the Zimbabwe batting line-up, bat intelligently, runs can be scored. And, if Zimbabwe want to taste success in the T20I series against the Men in Blue, they must score quite heavily as a batting unit.
For Zimbabwe, many of the players who were a part of the ODI squad, will face India in the three T20Is as well. So, the hosts can reflect on the mistakes they made during the ODI series, especially in the batting department, and give a better account of themselves in a format that, in my opinion, will suit them. Zimbabwe have to be mentally strong and start afresh on Saturday. They only have two days in between to adapt to a different format, forget what has happened so far against India and put their best foot forward.
India are unlikely to do any favours for Zimbabwe, who cannot expect a drop in intensity from Dhoni and company. The playing XI India went into the final ODI with spoke a lot about their intentions and how determined they are to keep the pressure on Zimbabwe. From the hosts’ point of view, they need to bat multiple times better than they did during the ODI series. This Indian batting line-up can be troubled, but first, it needs to be challenged. In addition to their ‘to-dos’, Zimbabwe might also enjoy the inherent nature of T20 cricket to let batsmen play freely – which could exactly be what the Masakadzas, Chigumburas and Sibandas need.