On the face of it,Indias seven-wicket win that sealed the series against Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club was a facile one. They were always expected to be victorious on their African sojourn. Regardless of the inexperience in the Indian squad. What was glaring during the Harare-leg of the five-match series,however,was the inability of the hosts to put on even a semblance of a fight,which in a way has accentuated the dominance of Virat Kohli & Co over the last few days.
Despite its inevitability,the 3-0 score-line with two matches to go is a significant milestone for the young Indian team as it now means that the world champions have won four consecutive ODI tournaments,including the ICC Champions Trophy,since their embarrassing defeat to Pakistan at home at the turn of the year.
The last time India showed such consistency in ODI cricket was during the 13-month period between August 2008 and September 2009 where they won five bilateral series,including two in New Zealand and the West Indies,and then capped it off with a tri-series win in Sri Lanka.
Change of guard
That was a phase,where the batting was dominated by the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni,Yuvraj Singh,Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir with the bat while Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan ruled the roost with the ball. The same names that in two years would go onto engineer Indias second World Cup win. The 3-2 win in Sri Lanka that kicked-off this glorious run for Team India also witnessed the emergence of Kohli,fresh from his U-19 exploits.
Five years on,Kohli is now at the helm,if only as a stand-in,along with being lynchpin of Indias ODI batting line-up. And around him are a bunch of upcoming stars,who have etched their own identities over the last few months and look well set to enhance those reputations in the months and years ahead. Not to forget the budding talent on the bench that is waiting for a chance to shine,which should come its way in Bulawayo.
Indias present run of consistency began with a comprehensive series victory at home against England,where the likes of Dhoni and Raina dominated the batting charts while Bhuvneshwar Kumar came to the fore as a new-ball exponent of immense calibre. It was also during the five matches against Alastair Cook & Co that Ravindra Jadeja looked to have regained his mojo and established himself as the genuine all-rounder in the setup. It was also the series which saw Raina at his match-winning best in the shorter formats with the left-hander finishing with 277 runs,most of which were scored at crucial times when the team needed them the most.
Dhonis army then resembled an unstoppable force on a rampage during the Champions Trophy in England where they saw off all opposition without much fuss,and eventually were crowned champions. That said,the Indians did go into the tournament slightly jittery about their opening combination with both Sehwag and Gambhir no longer in the selectors favour,especially with the conditions expected to assist the fast bowlers.
But Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma put those fears to rest in sensational fashion with the left-right duo sharing a number of match-winning stands at the top of the order. While Dhawan shone with two centuries on the trot,Sharma displayed a lot of grit and determination during his essays at the crease,qualities that he always seemed to lack previously.
The two augmented their fledgling relationship to the next level in the Caribbean,once again providing decent starts. Almost to the extent that Sehwag and Gambhir arent missed as gravely as many had predicted. The two weeks in the West Indies also saw Dhoni showing off his finishing abilities as he led India to tri-series glory in dramatic fashion with a last over assault against the Sri Lankans.
In Harare,India found someone who would put his hand up when required. If it wasnt Kohli scoring his umpteenth century in a run-chase,Dhawan was at his dominant best in the second ODI while the seamers have found the conditions in Zimbabwe to their benefit and made the most of them.
Bulawayo will be all about the bench-warmers finally getting a go,but itll also be about India continuing their consistent run. And with the World Cup now two years away,just like it was in 2009,it only augurs well for Indian cricket.
Were not mentally tough,laments Zimbabwe captain Taylor
Harare: Livid after conceding a series-deciding lead to India,Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor said his team has exhibited a distinct lack of mental toughness in the ODIs. Zimbabwe are winless in the five-match series so far,losing the first three ODIs without causing much problems to India.
The problem is mental toughness. I dont think were mentally sharp enough. Were just not making the precise decisions at the right time and not putting a price on our wickets. Too many soft dismissals, he said.
The most difficult one for me was the second game when we had an opportunity to win that game,and we dropped Dhawan and we dropped plenty of chances and allowed them to get to 290. It would have been a different story if wed caught our catches and probably chased 230-240,we would have gone about our chase a lot differently. Its very frustrating to see,knowing our batting ability and not getting the runs that we know we can get, he elaborated.
Taylor said dealing with Indian bowlers might be tough but not impossible and a bit of patience was all that his batsmen needed to have. We all know in the mornings its a little tricky (to bat) but technically we havent been good enough. The Indian bowlers,they just keep it nice and simple, he explained.
They dont give you too much to hit,but if we can get through that initial period and keep wickets in hand theres no reason why we cant catch up and post a decent total.
Taylor,however,insisted that all was still not lost and the home team can reclaim some pride by winning the remaining two matches in Bulawayo. Theres always pride (to play for). We use that word a lot,because its a privilege to represent your country. Just to be playing against the best team in the world,thats an honour in itself, he said.
After their third loss on the trot Sunday,Taylor said he could understand the fans disappointment with the team. It hurts, Taylor conceded. It really does hurt.
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