Virat Kohli scored his 15th ODI century off 102 balls. (AFP)
Virat Kohli made his second ODI century as captain - and 15th overall to become India's third-highest century-maker - and Ambati Rayudu marked his international debut with a promising 63* as India completed a one-sided victory over Zimbabwe in Harare to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series. Chasing 229 on a decent batting pitch, India took advantage of a lacklustre bowling effort from Zimbabwe to cruise to their ninth win of the summer, out of a total of 11 played, reaching the target with four wickets in hand and 31 balls to spare.
Despite removing both openers inside 13 overs, Zimbabwe barely had time to celebrate their minor accomplishments before Kohli and Rayudu smoothed over the cracks in a 159-run partnership that earned a young team success. The result continues India's impressive winning streak over the past six weeks and gives Kohli an understanding of the captaincy in the absence of experienced players.
In pursuit of a modest target, India lost Shikhar Dhawan (17) caught at deep fine leg when pulling Kyle Jarvis. Rohit Sharma scratched around 40 balls for 20 before wafting at Elton Chigumbura, which brought to the crease Rayudu. He and Kohli worked the ball into the gaps and cashed in on over-pitched deliveries during a stand that quickly downgraded Zimbabwe's total from modest to easy.
Kohli caressed boundaries through the covers and past between midwicket and mid-on during his 115 - the two languid drives he played early on off Jarvis and Chigumbura were the best - as Zimbabwe's hopes of repeating their 2010 success at home against a weakened Indian side faded. His innings accelerated the more he scored but he hardly needed to take any risks, instead pouncing on over-pitched and short offerings and clipping coolly through the on side when the quicks strayed onto his pads. In reaching his 15th ODI century in 102 balls, in his 109th ODI, Kohli drew level with Virender Sehwag in the all-time India list.
Rayudu, making what many in India will feel is a long overdue debut, was solid in technique and reciprocated his captain's keenness between the wickets. He was watchful initially and appeared intent on making his first innings count; spin was played with dabs and steers and the fast men worked into the gaps with little fuss. Forty-eight deliveries separated his first and second boundaries as Rayudu chose to shun his attacking ways. He reached his half-century in 74 balls, thus becoming the 11th Indian to do so.
Kohli moved from 100 to 115 in four balls before swatting Prosper Utseya to long-off, with 13 needed, and two balls later Suresh Raina fell for 0. But that was the last success for Zimbabwe. The Kohli-Rayudu alliance was the 14th best overall for the third wicket for India.
Unfortunately for the hosts, they were unable to majorly capitalise on their fifth-best opening partnership against India in ODIs and Chigumbura's late cameo did not do enough to challenge India. Pakistan-born Sikandar Raza's maiden ODI fifty (82) provided the platform but a procession of wickets between overs 30-40 set Zimbabwe back as India's bowlers, in particular Amit Mishra, kept a check on the run rate.
The absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was regularly produced breakthroughs early for India, was felt as Zimbabwe's openers ground out 21.5 overs. Two-thirds of the innings after Kohli opted to field was largely risk-free, with the aim no doubt being to set a platform and then build towards the denouement. India's new-ball pair of Vinay Kumar and Mohammed Shami was disciplined without being penetrative.
There was a bit of movement off the deck but apart from a couple inside edges and shaves past the bat Raza and Vusi Sibanda were able to manoeuvre the Powerplay with relative ease. Only when the ball was really pitched up did the batsmen take toll; Raza flicked Shami off the pads and Sibanda beat mid-off with a firm push. Those were the only boundaries scored in the first ten overs.
Mishra, in his first ODI since July 2011, snapped an obdurate stand of 72 when Sibanda (34) misread a googly. Sean Williams (15) was bowled by Raina in the 31st over and Hamilton Masakadza, whose brief appeared to be to attack, was bowled by Mishra for 9 when looking for six down the ground.
Raza, dropped on 28 by Kohli at slip off Ravindra Jadeja, dominated a whirlwind stand of 43 in five overs with Brendan Taylor, cutting and pulling with clinical ease. Vinay went for 24 in two Powerplay overs with Raza slamming two sixes, but in the remaining 18 deliveries Zimbabwe managed just 15 runs. Taylor (12), Malcolm Waller (2) and Raza fell in succession and it was down to Chigumbura's 34-ball 43 to get the score past 200.