In a bid to bury the demons of their recent series loss to Bangladesh, team India will take on minnows Zimbabwe in the three-match ODI series followed by two T20 Internationals. Though the 11th-ranked Zimbabweans might not pose much of a threat, the Indian brigade led by the pragmatic Ajinkya Rahane shouldn't underestimate the opponents, especially in the absence of their senior players.
In what appears to be a stern test of India's bench strength, the country's second-string team will lock horns with Zimbabwe in the 1st ODI at Harare on 10 July. The absence of India's star players, including Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, has given a much-needed opportunity to the youngsters and some fringe players to prove their mettle on foreign soil.
Ajinkya Rahane, recently made the Indian captain for the Zimbabwe tour, will have his own battle at hand during the series. Regular skipper MS Dhoni had dropped Rahane for the last two ODIs against Bangladesh saying that the right-hander struggles to rotate the strike on slow pitches. Rahane will be eager to prove Dhoni wrong in the upcoming series which will also help him cement his place in the Indian middle-order.
Apart from Rahane, the other out of favour players - Murali Vijay, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Manoj Tiwary and Ambati Rayudu will all be looking at making the most of this opportunity to compete for a regular spot in the Indian team.
In the absence of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, India is likely to use Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay in the opening slot. Vijay, who's a regular opener for India in Tests, will be playing his first ODI in two years. He will be eager to use the opportunity to stake his claim in the ODI team. Robin Uthappa, who's expected to keep wickets in the absence of MS Dhoni, is another player who'll be raring to get back into action. Ambati Rayudu, Manoj Tiwary and Manish Pandey should strengthen the middle-order, while Stuart Binny will be seen in the role of an all-rounder for India.
In the absence of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, swing specialist Bhuvneshwar Kumar will spearhead India's pace attack. Considering the slow pitches in Zimbabwe, Bhuvneshwar's ability to vary his pace will be crucial in picking up wickets. He will also find adequate support in Mohit Sharma and Dhawal Kulkarni. But, it remains to be seen whether skipper Ajinkya Rahane would opt for three front-line seamers in the playing XI.
Harbhajan Singh, who made his comeback during the Bangladesh tour after a gap of over two years, will be the senior-most player in the side. He is likely to bowl in tandem with budding spinner Axar Patel who is certain to make it into the playing XI in the series opener.
Zimbabwe's recent form
Ranked 11th in ODIs, Zimbabwe might not appear threatening enough to trouble India's second-string team. But if one was to go by their recent form, Elton Chigumbura's men will clearly be far from just pushovers. Though Zimbabwe failed to win a single game during their recent tour of Pakistan, the minnows duly ensured they didn't do down without proving a point. While chasing the mammoth total of 375 runs in the first ODI against Pakistan, Zimbabwe put up a brave fight with Chigumbura scoring 117 runs. Though Zimbabwe fell short by 41 runs, the team proved they can handle a quality bowling attack.
India: Ajinkya Rahane (c), Murali Vijay, Ambati Rayudu (wk), Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav (wk), Robin Uthappa (wk), Manish Pandey, Harbhajan Singh, Axar Patel, Dhawal Kulkarni, Stuart Binny, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep Sharma
Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (c), Regis Chakabva (wk), Sean Williams, Chamu Chibhabha, Graeme Cremer, Neville Madziva, Hamilton Masakadza, Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Tinashe Panyangara, Vusi Sibanda, Sikandar Raza, Donald Tiripano, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller