The world was going gaga over Roger Federer’s straight-set shut down of home favourite Andy Murray in the Wimbledon semifinal – inarguably a high quality sporting contest. But it was hard to resist the temptation of tracking the Indian cricket team’s battle against Zimbabwe in the first one-day international at the Harare Sports Club on a fantastic Friday evening.
Coming in the wake of a series loss in Bangladesh and a number of players’ decision to seek rest during the short tour of Zimbabwe, it made sense to keep an eye on how some players on the fringes of the full Indian team would respond to the challenges offered by the situation and the Zimbabwe team.
Ambati Rayudu, Stuart Binny, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Axar Patel, who spent the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 warming the reserves benches, were among those who grabbed the opportunity to justify the selectors’ line of thinking. Ajinkya Rahane and Harbhajan Singh did enough to reinforce their own claims while the others were left to introspect their game.
As they rustled up a 160-run partnership for the sixth wicket to give the Indians a reasonable total to defend on a sluggish track, Ambati Rayudu and Stuart Binny combined industry, maturity and adventurism in right proportions. India was able to go past the 250-mark after having been a miserable 87 for five.
As Stuart Binny showcased his batsmanship, not a few old-timers would have been tempted to recall the 1983 Prudential Cup match between these nations at Tunbridge Wells when his father, Roger Binny, gave skipper Kapil Dev the support he needed after five specialist batsmen fell for single-digit scores.
On a Harare Sports Club track that had a bit of moisture and offered the new ball bowlers extra bounce and some movement, it was imperative that the Indian batsmen get their heads down and dig their heels in. Rahane got off to a start but did not make it count while the other specialists frittered their wickets away with poor judgement.
Of course, it is too early to question the temperament of the batsmen aspiring to break into the Indian ODI squad but it will not be unfair to suggest that Murali Vijay, Manoj Tiwary, Robin Uthappa and Kedar Jadhav wasted the first opportunity in Zimbabwe. Each of this quartet would have been eager to impress and stay in the frame when the selectors meet again.
There was one another aspect that came through tellingly – Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s ability as a death overs bowler. Mahendra Singh Dhoni preferred to not employ him in the final overs and bowling his full quota of overs only once in every four innings. But against Elton Chigumbura and others, Bhuvneshwar Kumar showed that he could attack the blockhole with regularity.
If Rahane and his team can win the three-match series on Sunday, the tour selectors may be tempted to give explosive batsman Manish Pandey and new ball bowler Sandeep Sharma a look in. But it does look like as if they will have to wear the substitutes’ jackets along with Mohit Sharma during the second ODI as well.
Talking of selection, it was not a great idea to ignore specialist wicket-keepers for the tour. Also, the decision to not pick a replacement leg-spinner for Karn Sharma who pulled out with injury was a poor one. Not only was Amit Mishra or Yuzvendra Chahal denied a chance but also Rahane found himself desperate for an additional slow bowling option during the defence.