India will return to international cricket action on Saturday when getting its tour of Zimbabwe underway in Harare. The match begins a three-match One-Day international series, with three Twenty20 internationals to follow before the end of the month. And with many of India’s big names left at home, the tour will be a chance for some fresh faces to make their mark and state their case for regular involvement heading toward next year’s Champions Trophy.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is in Zimbabwe to captain the team, but the likes of Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravichandran Ashwin and others have been given some time off following the Indian Premier League and a busy upcoming schedule that includes a tour of the West Indies next month. And Dhoni admits that adjusting to a new-look squad, where five of the 16 players are uncapped and he has more international experience than the other 15 players combined, will present difficulties.
“You keep playing with almost the same group of players,” he said ahead of departing for Zimbabwe earlier this week. “So you almost know the roles and responsibilities and what each player’s strengths are. There will be quite a few players in this bilateral series with whom I'll be playing for the first time.”
“So I have to quickly assess their strengths and at the same time according to the team composition what is the best possible slot and what is the best possible manner in which each individual can be utilized. These will be the challenges.”
It is, though, a repeat of the situation India embarked on last July, when India also toured Zimbabwe with a second-string team. On that occasion, when also missing Dhoni, India won all three ODIs before splitting the two T20 contests. India was helped by an impressive debut from Manish Pandey, who struck 71 in Harare in the third ODI. Pandey, who went onto make his first international century in Australia at the start of this year, is now aiming to establish himself in the first-choice India side.
“This is again going to be a fresh start,” he told the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s website. “We were there last year around the same time and I made my debut in Zimbabwe. It is good to go back there and share those memories, score some runs for India and do my duty.
“My goal is to keep performing and make sure that I fit into that Indian XI and become a permanent member of the squad. My goal for the next couple of years is to be a part of the Indian team and to win games for India. I am working hard towards that and I want to achieve that.”
Another player Dhoni will hope for some big performances from is Jasprit Bumrah. The pace bowler has made a fine start to international cricket after making his debut in Australia in January, but has just a single One-Day international under his belt.
Unlike India, Zimbabwe has a full-strength side to choose from, but it is again a team in transition, currently with an interim captain in Graeme Cremer and interim coach, Makhaya Ntini. It has been a bleak time for Zimbabwe cricket in recent years, including winning just one match at the 2015 50-over World Cup and failing to even make it to the Super 10 stage of last year’s World Twenty20. In its last ODi outings, Zimbabwe lost 3-2 to Afghanistan in January.
“Obviously we haven’t played one-dayers for quite a while now which is not ideal but we are playing at home and are confident that we can put on a good show,” Cremer said, reports the Zimbabwe Herald. “We obviously want to win, but we will take it game by game. If we put on some good performances the result will take care of itself.”
Match Time: 3 a.m. EDT
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