India and Zimbabwe round out their 2015 Cricket World Cup group campaigns at Eden Park on Saturday, with their contrasting fates already decided. India have won all five of their matches in the competition to date, and are secured of top spot in Pool B heading into the quarterfinals. Zimbabwe, meanwhile, have tasted victory just once and know that they will be heading home after the match in Auckland.
India have so far exceeded expectations in the defense of their title. A dismal tri-series performance in January against Australia and England was quickly forgotten with convincing wins over Pakistan and South Africa, and they have continued to steamroll their opponents since. While star man Virat Kohli has continued to score consistently, the turnaround in the form of opener Shikhar Dhawan has been a welcome boost. The 29-year-old hit his second century of the competition in a win over Ireland last time out.
Key to India’s domination of their pool, though, has been the surprisingly effective performances of their bowling attack. Only Ireland have posted a total of more than 250 against them, thanks in large part to fast-bowlers Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav. Shami has led the way with 12 wickets, and he has credited the approach of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni for his success.
“I like the way he handles the team and handles me as a bowler as I have made my debut under him across all formats,” he said, according to The Indian Express. “I am always free and I have never been tensed when he has captained the side. He is not someone, who demands certain things from me. He is someone who has always told me about my mistakes and asked me not to repeat them in the future. He never gets angry. He will tell you things very calmly and handles the situation well which helps a bowler.”
Continuing with his philosophy so far, Dhoni has stated that he again has no plans to rest players. That could prove bad news for a Zimbabwe side looking to end a poor World Cup on a high and deliver a fitting farewell to stand-in captain Brendan Taylor. The experienced wicketkeeper-batsman could well be playing his final game for his country, after revealing this week that he has agreed a three-year contract with English county side Nottinghamshire. Having signed on as a Kolpak player, he will be unable to play for Zimbabwe during that time.
The loss of one of their leading players has brought further questions about the future health of Zimbabwe cricket. For the third successive World Cup, the African nation has gone out in the group phase, following a nail-biting loss to Ireland on Saturday. Coach Dav Whatmore has attributed the failure in key moments at the World Cup to the lack of international cricket Zimbabwe have played in recent times, and Taylor insists he remains convinced that the talent is there to flourish in his absence.
“I think there's enough depth there at the moment,” Taylor said, reports Reuters. “We've certainly got some experienced players, we've got some young and talented players coming through. I'm not too worried about maybe leaving a hole there ... I certainly don't think that's the case. I think the players are definitely good enough to fulfill that number four spot in test cricket and one-dayers. I'm confident that there's a bright future right around the corner for Zimbabwe cricket.”
Match time: Saturday, 2 p.m. local time. Friday, 9 p.m. EDT.
TV channel: DISH Network, Mediacom and Time Warner Cable subscribers can watch the match via pay per view. More info here.
Live streaming info: India vs. Zimbabwe, and all matches, will be available via ESPN's digital subscription service, costing $99.