Zimbabwe, despite being the home side, were very slow to get off the blocks and did not do justice to the potential of the squad that was picked for the three-match One-Day International (ODI) and three-match Twenty20 International (T20I) series against India. They were steamrolled and whitewashed in the ODI series, but the hosts redeemed themselves quickly and made a winning start to the T20I series. However, in the end, it proved to be a one-off performance from Graeme Cremer’s men, who failed to replicate their showing in the first T20I and lost the last two games of the T20 series, going down by a 1-2 margin. India’s tour of Zimbabwe 2016 provided a good opportunity to have a look at the bench strength.
From India’s perspective, there are quite a few takeaways from their tour of Zimbabwe 2016. Their 15-day long tour ended like it began, with a victory, and MS Dhoni and company can be proud of what they achieved in this less-consequential tour of Zimbabwe before entering an important phase in this calendar year.
In this article, we look at the inferences India can take from this tour. Read on…
India Tour of Zimbabwe 2016
If you had told me before India left for Zimbabwe, that the Men in Blue would bulldoze the home side in both the ODI and T20 series, I would have cautioned you. As aforementioned, Zimbabwe’s squad was a very good one and on paper, easily the more experienced.
India’s 16-man squad was chock-a-block with new faces. But the raw, young Indian side was led by Dhoni, the talismanic skipper who not only was under pressure to lead the Men in Blue to series victories but also, deliver with the bat. The fact that he could not contribute with the bat, to the team’s cause, must be disappointing for the 34-year-old himself. Let us face it, this Indian side was bereft of its batting mainstays – Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan – and although there were talented batsmen and some seasoned campaigners – Ambati Rayudu and Kedar Jadhav – in the Indian squad for the tour of Zimbabwe, Dhoni was the main man.
He invited pressure by slotting himself at No. 6 in the batting order. The ageing Dhoni must have felt the harsh nature of this role when India were beaten by two runs in the first T20I at the Harare Sports Club. Needing only eight runs in the final over to win the game, India managed to score only five off Neville Madziva – who held his nerve and stymied one of the better finishers ODI cricket has ever seen. Going forward, Dhoni must seriously consider his batting position in India’s ODI side, as he, over the last 8-10 months, has been unable to finish off games and take his team over the line at the international level. This tour was his chance to redeem himself and rediscover his big hitting prowess. But indications are becoming stark with every passing series and Dhoni’s struggles and problems seem to be more than just a lack of form.
Secondly, India had a 5-1-5 combination – which was quite strange because Dhoni has predominantly preferred playing with the 6-1-4 combination and tasted much of his success by persevering with that blueprint. In the T20I series, India looked like a batsman short and if the home side had been a bit more lethal and organised with the bat and ball, they could have avenged for the ODI series whitewash. The first T20 game of the series was a very close affair and they won it. The game did come down to Dhoni, who batted at No. 6, but the Indian skipper could not banish the problems he has had lately in finishing off games.
And because his powers are on the wane, would Dhoni’s life have been a bit easier if a specialist batsman was batting at the other end? Probably. Axar Patel, with his 9-ball 18, very nearly won India that game, delivering lusty blows and scoring the required runs rapidly. But he showed that he does not have the mind of a batsman by playing a lofted shot when he did not have to. Even in the ultimate match of the tour, India got out of jail because of a superb knock from Kedar Jadhav. Their batting line-up’s limitation was tested, but Zimbabwe’s inability to deliver the killer blow helped the visitors hugely.
While Dhoni had his struggles as a batsman, Lokesh Rahul carried his dream batting form of IPL 2016 to Zimbabwe and into his debut limited-overs series for the national side. Rahul remained unbeaten thrice in his six innings and accrued his runs at a healthy strike rate of 83 runs/100 balls, proving that he can adapt to the demands of the shorter formats of the game too.
Even though the Zimbabwean bowling attack did not have the quality to test the Karnataka batsman a bit more, Rahul’s performances with the bat during Zimbabwe v India 2016 have to be measured by the control and flamboyance he exuded while he was at the crease. His ability to clear the boundary was the most striking aspect of his batting on the tour and bodes well for his ODI and T20I careers. Rahul’s emergence does not only provide India with another batting option for future series but will also keep Rohit and S Dhawan on their toes.
The Indian batting line-up was not at all tested by the Zimbabwe bowling attack during the ODI series. That, however, changed at the start of the T20I series, to win which India had to work extremely hard. Yes, they did win the second T20 game by 10 wickets, but if you look at the entire series, India managed to beat the home side to the trophy by just three runs in the ultimate game of their tour. The margins were a lot smaller and the new-look Indian batting line-up was put through a litmus test by an improved Zimbabwe bowling attack.
From that point of view, the performances of Manish Pandey (in the first T20I), Mandeep Singh (in the second T20I) and K Jadhav (in the third T20I) were major positives for the visitors from their tour of Zimbabwe 2016. Pandey very nearly won India the first T20I with a responsible knock of 48 (35); Mandeep scored an excellent 52* in the second, to guide India to a comprehensive victory along with Rahul; and Jadhav, with his 58 (42), was instrumental in India making what proved to be a match-winning total of 138 in the final T20I.
Since India lost just three wickets over the course of the entire ODI series, the Indian middle-order batsmen did not get to bat. So, the fact that they delivered when the need arose was impressive. The regular Indian middle-order has at least one spot up for grabs, with Suresh Raina struggling for form and Ajinkya Rahane not possessing the game required to bat in the middle order. So, Jadhav, Pandey and Mandeep too, are options which could be taken into consideration by the Indian selection committee, for the No. 5 and No. 6 positions, when they sit down to pick the Indian ODI squad for the home series against New Zealand later this year.
The Indian bowling attack, led by Barinder Sran, had a wonderful tour of Zimbabwe. The Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) seamer, who, in my opinion, was the best bowler for India on their tour of Zimbabwe, in which he picked up 10 wickets in five outings. He got the new ball to move both ways, bowled with a great deal of control and was a huge menace to Zimbabwe batsmen. He and India endured a huge scare in the last over of the last T20I, in which Zimbabwe almost pulled off the unthinkable: needing 21 runs to win off the final over bowled by Sran, Timycen Maruma, with precise hitting, brought the equation down to nine off five balls. Sran, though, gathered himself well and managed to win India the game and the series too. I am sure that the Punjab seamer will have learnt a lot from this particular over.
Yuzvendra Chahal, the other debutant in the Indian bowling attack, was impressive as well, and like his Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) teammate, Rahul, carried his IPL 2016 form onto this tour. He did get a bit of a hammering from Elton Chigumbura in the first T20I, otherwise, Chahal was economical (had an economy rate of 3.2 in the three ODIs and 7.41 in the three T20Is), incisive (picked up 9 wickets altogether, six in ODIs and three in T20Is) and bowled well in tandem with Axar.
Jasprit Bumrah was the leading wicket-taker – with nine wickets – in the ODI series and the second-highest in the T20I series, with five wickets. As someone who has been a part of the Indian side since the beginning of the ongoing calendar year, he did not face the challenges of others on the tour, yet delivered the goods time and again. Dhawal Kulkarni and Axar bowled well, too, and this bowling duo’s performances meant that the Zimbabwean batsmen had no breathing space, with no part-timers to target either.
The tour of Zimbabwe 2016 was a great learning curve for the young Indian side. India were just too good for the home side in the ODI series, but Zimbabwe challenged them a lot more in the T20Is. The most satisfying aspect for India must be the way they rose up to Zimbabwe’s challenge and did not show major weaknesses as a unit. As aforementioned, there are quite a lot of takeaways from the Men in Blue’s perspective and, barring two-three players, the majority of the squad will be happy with how they fared in a tour arranged specifically for the youngsters to gain exposure.