Harare: The first ODI on Wednesday was not as one-sided as perhaps expected by many, but the ease with which India chased a target of 229 will have given hosts Zimbabwe plenty to think about heading into the second game at the Harare Sports Club on Friday.
Being given first use of a good batting surface, Zimbabwe's middle order failed to cash in on the start provided by Sikandar Raza and Vusi Sibanda - their fifth-best opening partnership against India - and Elton Chigumbura's late cameo was not enough to erase a procession of wickets between overs 30-40. Indeed the only bright spark for Zimbabwe was Raza's career-best 82 and he was one of the few batsmen who attempted to throw the spinners off their line. The Sialkot-born batsmen, who used a drop on 28 to record his maiden half-century in ODI cricket, was left to regret getting out slogging and such bitterness will hold him and his batting team-mates in good stead for the remaining four matches against the world champions.
After being completely outclassed by India, Zimbabwe will mull making changes, particularly in the way they counter spin, if they are to put up a more credible show on Friday. Four wickets fell to slow bowling, with the experienced Hamilton Masakadza and well-set Raza perishing to wild slogs and Vusi Sibanda and Sean Williams failing to pick the movement. On an easy-paced track with not a lot of big turn, Zimbabwe played out 82 dot balls against India's slow bowlers who gained rhythm and got through their overs quickly.
Zimbabwe need to win in Harare on Friday or else they will have to win all their remaining games to win the five-ODI series.
As Raza pointed out, Zimbabwe would have liked to have got at least 20 more runs on the board. The bowlers struggled to contain a rampaging Virat Kohli and the solidity with which debutant Ambati Rayudu kept the pacers and spinners at bay does not augur well for the home team. It would be unfair to point blame solely on Zimbabwe's batsmen but the frailties of the middle order will remain a concern if not rectified soon.
Secondly, the hosts need to bolster their pace attack by including either Brian Vitori or the uncapped Michael Chinouya. Tinotenda Mutombodzi's legspin was carted for 8.29 in 7.5 overs and Sean Williams gave 18 in three overs of gentle left-arm spin. Kyle Jarvis (economy of 5.00), Tendai Chatara (3.33) and Chigumbura (6.00) all fared better than Mutombozi so getting in another pace bowler could be the way forward.
India perhaps didn't bat as well as they would have liked considering the strength of the Zimbabwean bowlers and the form that Rohit Sharma has been in of late, but they have fewer concerns overall compared to their opponents. Kohli, who notched up his 15th OD century and second as captain, expressed pleasure at the way Rayudu batted in a 159-run partnership for the third wicket yet India would have liked more from Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan who got starts but fell playing attacking shots.
Dhawan, in particular, has faded away after reeling off runs in the ICC Champions Trophy; since departing England he has scores of 11, 24, 69, 15, 16 and 17. Considering India have chosen a crop of younger players to blood in this low-key series, it is foreseeable that Dhawan at some point on tour gets rested for Ajinkya Rahane or Cheteshwar Pujara at the top of the order. If he plays on Friday, the 27-year-old could do with a big score.
Death bowling remains a bit of a concern for India and something they will need to sharpen. While a new-look attack did not exactly lose the plot towards the end of Zimbabwe's innings, legspinner Amit Mishra conceded 13 in his last over (the 46th) and Vinay Kumar bled 45 in his last four. The ease with which Chigumbura found the boundary at the death was somewhat alarming.
Zimbabwe: 1 Vusi Sibanda, 2 Sikandar Raza, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (capt/wk), 5 Sean Williams, 6 Malcolm Waller, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Prosper Utseya, 9 Kyle Jarvis, 10 Brian Vitori, 11 Tendai Chatara
India: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Amit Mishra, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Vinay Kumar, 11 Jaydev Unadkat