The last time India came on a tour of Zimbabwe, it was in 2016 and KL Rahul, who had been in the Test fold, was starting to get into white-ball scheme of things after a breakthrough IPL season with Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).
In the first ODI of that tour, making his debut in 50-over format under MS Dhoni, Rahul became the first India batter and eleventh overall to make a century on debut. He ended the ODI leg of the tour as the leading run-getter and took Player of the Series award as well.
Six years later, Rahul will be returning to Harare as the captain of the side, to the place where his white-ball mainstay story for India began. But he is coming back after a long time on the sidelines. A groin injury was followed by sports hernia surgery and testing positive for Covid-19.
Thursday’s match, the first of the three ODI matches between India and Zimbabwe, will have the majority of focus on how Rahul as well as Deepak Chahar shape up, especially with Men’s T20 World Cup coming in October-November and before that, the Asia Cup, starting from August 27.
Just like Rahul, who last played a competitive cricket match in May, Chahar was last seen in action in February in the T20Is against the West Indies. A quadriceps tear he picked during the series got him on sidelines and with the back injury picked up, he had to spend more time away from playing action.
The ODIs against Zimbabwe give time and chance for both Rahul and Chahar to get back into playing groove in international cricket, especially with back-to-back action coming up. Rahul has got success as a number five batter in ODIs and should be interesting to see if he comes to bat in same position or gets fit on top of the order, which he does in Tests and T20Is.
Others like Shikhar Dhawan, Shubman Gill, Mohammed Siraj, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Ishan Kishan and Avesh Khan would be itching to continue their impressive run in recent matches.
On the other hand, Zimbabwe are full of confidence and are coming into the series against India on the back of series victories against Bangladesh in T20Is and ODIs. The series against India gives them the chance to see where they stand against strong teams in ODI cricket and collect some crucial points for the 2023 ODI World Cup Super League.
In batting, they have been led by their talismanic all-rounder Sikander Raza, who scored unbeaten centuries (135 and 117) in successful chases of 304 and 291 in successive matches.
He was well-supported by Innocent Kaia in the first chase, and by captain Regis Chakabva in the second chase. But Zimbabwe need for their top-order to avoid meltdowns of 62-3, 27-3 and 18-3 in the matches against Bangladesh. With the ball, Luke Jongwe holds the key.
Though Zimbabwe are without the services of Craig Ervine (hamstring injury), Blessing Muzarabani (thigh tear), Tendai Chatara (fracture to collarbone) and Wellington Masakadza (shoulder injury) and Sean Williams (unavailable due to personal reasons), Zimbabwe have shown that they have the ability to cause upsets and try to get just their fifth ODI victory over India in 24 matches at home.
India: KL Rahul (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan (vice-captain), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shubman Gill, Deepak Hooda, Rahul Tripathi, Ishan Kishan (wicket-keeper), Sanju Samson (wicket-keeper), Shardul Thakur, Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel, Avesh Khan, Prasidh Krishna, Mohammed Siraj, Deepak Chahar and Shahbaz Ahmed.
Zimbabwe: Regis Chakabva (captain), Tanaka Chivanga, Bradley Evans, Luke Jongwe, Ryan Burl, Innocent Kaia, Kaitano Takudzwanashe, Clive Madande, Wesley Madhevere, Tadiwanashe Marumani, John Masara, Tony Munyonga, Richard Ngarava, Victor Nyauchi, Sikandar Raza, Milton Shumba and Donald Tiripano