Zimbabwe tour: India’s emerging second line

For India, the tour of Zimbabwe was more of a simulation training for the newcomers, who were picked after fine showings in the Indian Premier League.

Jasprit Bumrah... a really improved pace bowler.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

Lokesh Rahul... shedding the tag of 'Test batsman.'   -  Reuters

Kedar Jadhav... making the most of his opportunities.   -  AP

Axar Patel... economical spinner.   -  AP

Barinder Sran... has impressed M. S. Dhoni.   -  AP

Zimbabwe’s celebration after winning the first T20I against India told us how much the victory meant for the usually losing team. As paceman Neville Madziva pulled off a heist, defending eight runs in the final over with Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the crease, the team rejoiced as if it had won the World Cup. The small groups of people, scattered around the Harare Sports Club stadium, sang and danced, merrily waving the Zimbabwean flag. Makhaya Ntini, the recently appointed coach, too, broke into a little jig. However, it was the first, and the only time in the series, where Zimbabwe got to celebrate after a match. It was the underdog even against a second-string Indian team.

Dhoni’s team of freshers had crushed Zimbabwe in the ODIs. Graeme Cremer’s men, who batted first in all three games, aggregated 417 runs in 126.4 overs, losing 29 wickets whereas India scored 428 in 91.1 overs shedding just three wickets.

The host was more competitive in the shorter format. After winning the first game, it slumped to a ten-wicket defeat in the second. It recuperated to put up a good fight in the decider but fell four runs short of winning the series.

For India, this tour was more of a simulation training for the newcomers, who were picked after fine showings in the Indian Premier League. They were exposed to the international stage against the weakest Test nation. While a few passed the test swimmingly, others struggled on occasions.

Here are five Indians who impressed.

JASPRIT BUMRAH

Ever since his debut in Australia, Bumrah has become a regular fixture in India’s limited overs line-up. Though limited in his arsenal, the paceman unleashes his most destructive weapon — the yorker — with such precision that the lack of variety doesn’t hamper him. His deliveries have been predictable with most of them coming into the right-handers. In this tour, however, he got a few to straighten that helped him reap more wickets than anyone in the ODI series. His evolution as a bowler augurs well for the Indian team.

LOKESH RAHUL

In a time when quite a few batsmen are pigeonholed as T20 specialists, Rahul’s feats in the four-day and the five-day formats made many call him a ‘Test batsman’. Rahul, admittedly, wasn’t pleased being typecasted. He proved his mettle in the IPL, scoring 397 runs at a strike rate of 146 and this earned him a limited overs debut for India. He responded by becoming the first Indian to hit a century on ODI debut. He scored the most in the series not only to prove a point, but also to make a case for replacing Shikhar Dhawan, who ails with inconsistency, as India’s first-choice opener across formats.

KEDAR JADHAV

Despite scoring an unbeaten, match-winning hundred during India’s previous visit to Zimbabwe, Jadhav never got another opportunity to play for the team. At 31, Jadhav is the oldest in the squad after Dhoni but has played only seven ODIs. He just got to bat twice on the tour. An ambitious slog cut him off at 19 in the first T20I, which India lost. The next time he came out to bat, India was struggling at 27 for three with the T20I series on the line. Low bounce, inconsistent pace and a doubtful mind seemed to cramp him at the start, but he persisted to score a half-century to steer his team away from trouble. But even this sterling effort mightn’t cement his place in the team.

AXAR PATEL

Axar had a decent run in the IPL, but it ended appallingly with Dhoni clobbering 22 runs in his final over of the tournament, which put Rising Pune Supergiants ahead of the bottom-dwelling Kings XI Punjab. Despite the blemish, Axar was deemed good enough against the Zimbabweans. Aided by the slow-paced tracks in Harare, he emerged as the most economical bowler of the tournament. Having batted twice on the tour, he scored 38 in the lower order that earned him praise from Sanjay Bangar, India’s coach for the tour.

BARINDER SRAN

Barinder Sran’s last over in the deciding T20I almost gave away the game and the series to the host. He bowled waywardly — a delivery even landed outside the pitch — but it was more of an attack of nerves than lack of talent. For, he was the man of the tournament in his first T20 series, collecting six wickets in two games. If Sran improves in consistency and gathers more wisdom through experience, he can partly ameliorate India’s fast-bowling drought. For now, he is in Dhoni’s list of “10-12 players who can play for the country” regularly.