It is very much a case of job done so far for India at the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Heading into the team’s final group match against Zimbabwe in Auckland, qualification for the quarterfinals and indeed top spot in Pool B has already been secured after a perfect start to the tournament.
India made it five wins from five earlier this week with victory over Ireland in Hamilton. The eight-wicket triumph made it another emphatic margin of victory for the 2011 champions, who have been imperious with the bat and have exceeded expectations with the ball. Indeed, Ireland became the first team to score more than 250 runs against India in this World Cup when registering 259 on a flat Seddon Park pitch. Mohammed Shami took three wickets to take his total for the World Cup to 12. And India’s batting lineup had little trouble surpassing Ireland’s total, largely thanks to a second century of the competition for opener Shikhar Dhawan.
Winning their first two matches against fierce foes Pakistan and then Pool B favorites South Africa already put India in command of the group. It also all-but assured them of cruising though to the last eight as one of the top two teams and thus avoiding co-hosts Australia and New Zealand in the first knockout round. Yet captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has so far resisted the temptation to rotate his lineup, and give some of his squad members time out on the field while allowing his first-choice lineup an extended rest. And providing there are no obvious problems, that strategy will continue against Zimbabwe.
“We need the physio's input in this matter,” Dhoni said following the win over Ireland, reports the Times of India. “If the physio feels any player is in danger of breaking down, we will rest him in that situation. Otherwise, if everyone is fit and available for selection, we'll field the best XI. Because there are already long breaks between matches -- that much rest should be adequate. If there is no risk of injury, we will then continue to field our best eleven.”
For India’s opponents, the match is also essentially a meaningless one, although for far less positive reasons. With just one win -- against the United Arab Emirates -- from their five matches so far, Zimbabwe already know they will be heading home from New Zealand after Saturday’s encounter. Their fate was confirmed after falling to associate nation Ireland by just five runs in a thriller in Hobart on Saturday. The disappointment for Zimbabwe was particularly pronounced, having looked on course to surpass Ireland’s total of 331 before Sean Williams was caught out four runs short of his century by Irishman John Mooney while he appeared to have his foot on the boundary rope.
Zimbabwe have been dealt a further blow this week, with the news that experienced wicketkeeper-batsman Brendon Taylor has signed a three-year Koplak deal with English county side Nottinghamshire, meaning the match with India could be his last for his country. The Koplak agreement allows English team to employ players from citizens of countries that have signed European Union Association Agreements, but prevents the players from turning out for their national team while it is in place.
“It's been one of the biggest decisions I've had to make; in fact the biggest decision,” the 29-year-old told ESPNcricinfo. "I've always been very passionate about playing for Zimbabwe, I still am.
“I'm very, very sad to leave Zimbabwe cricket. I've had some fond memories and I have some great friends here but life goes on and you have to try and make the best decisions for your family and moving forward.”
Prediction: A bitterly disappointed Zimbabwe are unlikely to have any answer for an India team that will be seeking to continue their momentum heading into the knockout rounds.