The beauty of any sport lies in its unpredictability. No team is entitled to a victory and a juggernaut can on any day be upstaged by an underdog. Before the start of Zimbabwe v India 2016 ODI series, India weren’t expected to steamroll the hosts. Of course, Zimbabwe’s shoddy showing, especially with the bat, has helped the Men in Blue immensely. But you can also point to the inexperience in India’s 16-man squad and how it was expected to be a factor over the course of this tour. However, the new faces in this Indian side have announced their arrivals on the international stage in emphatic fashion and repaid the faith kept on them by the Indian selection committee.
Having performed well above expectations so far on this tour, the challenge now for the Indian players ahead of the Twenty20 International (T20I) series beginning on Saturday, will be to maintain their performance levels. Zimbabwe believe that this T20 series gives them the best chance of tasting success against India – as implicitly stated by their skipper, Graeme Cremer – and the nature of the format will allow them to play with a bit more freedom and confront the ICC World Twenty20 (WT20) 2016 semi-finalists. Toss will not be much of a factor, thanks to the 1:00 PM start and the Indian bowlers are unlikely to enjoy as much swing and seam as they did in the ODIs. In my opinion, therefore, cricket fans can expect much more of a contest come Saturday.
As always, the composition of the Indian side will be an element to keep an eye on. Having utilised just 12 players over the course of three ODIs, what will be India’s playing XI for the first T20I against Zimbabwe? MS Dhoni finds himself in a dicey situation again, and in this article, we take an in-depth look at his options. Read on…
Zimbabwe v India 2016, 1st T20I: India’s Playing XI
The obtrusive aspect of India’s playing XIs for the three ODIs was Dhoni’s preference to play five specialist bowlers. And his decision was understandable: handicapped by the lack of part-time bowlers, he has, in a way, been forced to accommodate five specialist bowlers. We can say that the specialists have delivered the goods too, so far on this tour. However, when it comes to T20 cricket, all-rounders are of a lot more value to captains than specialists and Dhoni, I have no doubt in my mind, will acknowledge that.
Looking at India’s 16-man squad, Axar Patel, Rishi Dhawan and Jayant Yadav could be categorised as all-rounders. But can you place any of them on the same pedestal as Ravindra Jadeja? Probably not, although the Saurashtra all-rounder has underachieved too, at the international level. The question Dhoni should ask himself when he sits down to decide on India’s playing XI is whether R Dhawan and J Yadav would make ideal replacements for any of the 12 players who featured in the three ODIs. He will probably say a big ‘no’ and none of us can argue against the Indian skipper’s assertion.
In the batting department, Mandeep Singh has been warming the benches since the start of this tour, but unfortunately, cannot be given a go on Saturday for the first T20I. Only five Indian batsmen – Ambati Rayudu, Faiz Fazal, Karun Nair, KL Rahul, and Manish Pandey – have got a hit on this tour. Kedar Jadhav and Dhoni have yet to face even a ball, while Pandey has faced only a single delivery so far, dispatching it for a boundary to win India the second ODI. Under such circumstances, Dhoni, rationally, should not make changes, as it could really dent the confidence of all the players.
If I was in Dhoni’s place, I would continue with the Rahul-Fazal opening combination for the first T20I. This duo helped India win the final ODI by 10 wickets, with an unbeaten 126-run stand for the first wicket. They were in absolute control over the course of the chase and as in-form batsmen, should, ideally, be persisted with.
Rayudu was India’s No. 3 during the ODIs, but due to the significant lack of opportunities for other batsmen, the Mumbai Indian can be asked to bat at No. 5 or 6, making space for Pandey and K Jadhav to slot in at No. 3 and 4, respectively. Dhoni should bat at No. 5 at the very least.
Since R Dhawan and J Yadav are not exactly upgrades on Axar, I will persist with the Gujarat left-arm spinner in my playing XI, if I was Dhoni. He is a useful batsman lower down the order, as well. The Indian bowling attack should pick itself on the basis of recent form and performances: Barinder Sran, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jasprit Bumrah, and Yuzvendra Chahal enjoyed dream IPL 2016 campaigns and were too good for the Zimbabwean batsmen during the ODIs. Jaydev Unadkat has been warming the benches too, as the only other proper bowler in addition to the four mentioned above. But due to the lack of necessity for a change, the Saurashtra seamer has to wait for his opportunity.
India’s playing XI for the first T20I v Zimbabwe: MS Dhoni (C&WK), KL Rahul, Fazal, Pandey, K Jadhav, Rayudu, A Patel, Kulkarni, Sran, Bumrah and Chahal (according to their possible batting positions, except Dhoni).
Three-match series are hardly ever viable, even for captains who do not have a problem with tweaking their playing XI. Dhoni is the kind of captain who trusts the players and in the playing XI he picks – which is why he seldom makes changes. Remember the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup? India played seven games in total, and their playing XI was unchanged throughout the showpiece event, giving you a proper indication of how Dhoni works. Here, however, because India have been so clinical, the first-choice players have themselves not had chances. In which case, making changes will simply not make sense. So, India’s playing XI from the third ODI should be stuck with for the first T20I against Zimbabwe.