Youngsters make the most of the opportunity

India rested some of its experienced players for the series and opted to test the potential of some promising youngsters. And under the captaincy of the ever-improving Virat Kohli, it was a cakewalk for India in all the five matches.

Nothing less than a clean sweep would have confirmed the difference between India and Zimbabwe in the five-match one-day series that concluded recently!

India, a cricket powerhouse, riding on the good form of its key players, versus Zimbabwe, a perennial fledging cricket nation, did not quite make for an attractive package.

The series, no doubt, meant a lot to Zimbabwe, a debt-ridden nation lacking adequate infrastructure, but India had little to prove.

India, expectedly, rested some of its experienced players for the series and opted to test the potential of some promising youngsters. Under the captaincy of the ever-improving Virat Kohli, it was a cakewalk for India in all the five matches.

Before the series Kohli had made a pertinent observation. “I don’t think experience matters in limited overs games. You need 11 players who are hungry for success, who are hard working and whose vision is victory. All 15 players are strong and it is a strong unit, which is good,” he had said.

The team did not let him down. While Ambati Rayudu, Mohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara made their one-day international debuts, it was a pity that Parveez Rasool did not get an opportunity to make his debut for India.

Successful debuts by Rayudu and Mohit meant the National selectors were on the right track. No doubt, Rayudu had been acknowledged as a talented player even in his teens, but he got the chance to play his first ODI for India only at 27. To his credit, Rayudu never gave up hope. An unbeaten 63 in the first ODI at the Harare Sports Club confirmed his ability to seize the initiative.

“It feels marvellous,” was Rayudu’s reaction. His 159-run partnership with Kohli carried India to a convincing win in the first match.

“More than nervous, I was very emotional. I thank my family, my friends and especially the Mumbai Indians support staff, Sachin Tendulkar and Robin Singh. They’ve helped me a lot, and I’d definitely like to thank them for that. I always had the belief that if I could get things right and I could get my mind right I could make it to the team one day,” Rayudu said.

Mohit, the 24-year-old Haryana seamer, became the second Indian after Sandeep Patil to be adjudged the ‘Man of the Match’ on debut in ODIs. His two for 26 (10 overs) in the fourth match was in keeping with his craft.

“It feels like a dream but I have worked on my bowling and it is showing. I am ready to do well with whatever opportunity I am going to get. I was just focusing on keeping things simple and sticking to the basics,” said Mohit after the match. Steady bowling in the preceding first-class season had paved the way for his selection and his progress to the national team meant the world to Haryana, which also had a tremendous performer in leg-spinner Amit Mishra.

Mishra finished the series with a tally of 18 wickets, equalling Javagal Srinath’s world record tally in a bi-lateral series. Srinath’s feat was against New Zealand in 2002-03. But that was a seven-match series. Mishra equalled the record in just five matches. The next best in this series was Jaidev Unadkat with eight scalps. Playing his first match for India in two years, the leg-spinner hardly looked out of place. He was spot on right through the series and left the opposition in a daze with his wily stuff.

Mishra assessed his success calmly: “I’ve done lot of hard work on my googly and variations and it’s paying off. I was just thinking about the conditions and how to bowl on these kinds of tracks. I’ve spoken a lot with Trevor Penney and Duncan Fletcher who have given me a few tips, on which I’ve been working hard.”

Even though the performance was against a weak team like Zimbabwe, it should keep Mishra in the loop for Test selection in the season ahead.

For India, the highlight of the tour was the healthy competition among its players. Shikhar Dhawan did not take things lightly and did well by not resting on the laurels he earned earlier this year. He graciously conceded that he was fortunate to have been let off a few times during his century in the second match. There was maturity in his batting in the new playing conditions.

“It’s more difficult nowadays because you’ve got new balls from both ends. When the ball is swinging, you really need to play close to your body. You’ll see that in the first 10 overs, openers are not scoring that many nowadays because the ball is new and it swings a lot and you have to be more careful. Shot selection is very important,” Dhawan said.

For Kohli, it was a wonderful platform to showcase his leadership qualities. A captain in waiting, he led from the front. He commanded support from his team-mates to leave an impact on the series.

The 5-0 verdict was on expected lines even as the Indians made investments for the future by blooding some youngsters. In Rasool’s case though, the wait continues.

THE SCORES

Zimbabwe vs. India, fifth ODI, Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo (August 3, 2013)

Zimbabwe 163 in 39.5 overs (H. Masakadza 32, S. C. Williams 51, A. Mishra 6-48) lost to India 167 for three in 34 overs (S. Dhawan 41, A. M. Rahane 50, R. A. Jadeja 48 n.o.).

Fourth ODI, Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo (Aug. 1) Zimbabwe 144 in 42.4 overs (M. N. Waller 35, E. Chigumbura 50 n.o., A. Mishra 3-25) lost to India 145 for one in 30.5 overs (R. G. Sharma 64 n.o., S. K. Raina 65 n.o.).

Third ODI, Harare Sports Club (July 28) Zimbabwe 183 in 46 overs (H. Masakadza 38, S. C. Williams 45, A. Mishra 4-47) lost to India 187 for three in 35.3 overs (S. Dhawan 35, V. Kohli 68 n.o., A. T. Rayudu 33, S. K. Raina 28 n.o.).

Second ODI, Harare Sports Club (July 26) India 294 for eight in 50 overs (S. Dhawan 116, K. D. Karthik 69, R. Vinay Kumar 27 n.o.) beat Zimbabwe 236 for nine in 50 overs (V. Sibanda 55, H. Masakadza 34, E. Chigumbura 46, P. Utseya 52 n.o., J. D. Unadkat 4-41).

First ODI, Harare Sports Club (July 24)

Zimbabwe 228 for seven in 50 overs (V. Sibanda 34, Sikandar Raza 82, E. Chigumbura 43 n.o., A. Mishra 3-43) lost to India 230 for four in 44.5 overs (V. Kohli 115, A. T. Rayudu 63 n.o.).

Vijay Lokapally