The stage was set for Deepak Chahar’s comeback after six months away from competitive cricket. KL Rahul had won the toss in the first ODI and asked Zimbabwe to bat in a 9.15am start. The new ball has a reputation for doing things so early in the morning at Harare Sports Club. And Chahar was about to run in with it against a set of batsmen who rarely get to face such a quality bowling attack.
And yet, as he stood at the top of his mark holding the new ball, Chahar wore a pensive, even somewhat edgy look. You can do all the rehab you’ve been asked to and play practice games to prepare your body to return to action, as Chahar said he had, but half a year without any real game time is pretty significant.
As he ran in gingerly to bowl the first delivery of the game, Chahar ended up aborting his run-up at the last instant. On his second attempt, he sent down the gentlest of away-swinging full tosses. His returns of 7-0-27-3, which set up a 10-wicket wipeout, don’t reveal it, but for the first few overs of his spell on Thursday, Chahar looked every bit a bowler feeling his way back. He was searching for the proper length, he was struggling to control the line of the swinging ball at times, and he was desperate enough for a wicket to expend both of India’s reviews on big inswingers that were missing leg stump.
“No matter how much you have played, you are nervous (when making a comeback). The body and mind were not working together for the first few overs, but it got better after that,” Chahar said after the game. It wasn’t a massive curler that brought the breakthrough, but a surprise short delivery that Innocent Kaia tried to pull but only edged behind to wicketkeeper Sanju Samson in the seventh over. A relieved Chahar would now strike in each of his next two overs. Left-hander Tadiwanashe Marumani tickled a full delivery leaving him on its way to the keeper. Wesley Madhevere’s was the best dismissal of Chahar’s three; the ball slanted full into the right-hander, luring him into the attempted tuck to mickwicket and then swerving away really late to trap him plumb in front.
Unlike captain Regis Chakabva, who came in at 31 for 4 and attacked a few, none of the preceding Zimbabwe specialist batsmen tried to unsettle Chahar off his radar, once he had zeroed in on it. Unlike the Indian openers Shikhar Dhawan and Shubman Gill later, they did not walk down the crease to try to counter the movement either. Regardless of the quality of the opposition, Chahar did send down his seven overs on the trot, safely ticking the fitness box. He may not have generated that much pop off the surface, but admittedly this was a gentle one and he will likely continue to regain more rhythm further into the series.
Kuldeep Yadav was making an ODI comeback after six months too, but there was next to nothing for him from the pitch. He did have Chakabva guessing which way it would turn and appeared to have caught him dead in front, only for a faint flicker to appear on the noise-meter upon referral as the ball passed the bat. Zimbabwe were in no position to go after Kuldeep given the scoreboard but as he operated in the early 80s, they were able to knock him around without harm off the backfoot. And when he went fuller, they were prepared to paddle him fine. Still, Kuldeep was the only Indian bowler to complete his quota of ten overs, for 0/36.
Zimbabwe continued to lose wickets to soft dismissals at the other end. Sikandar Raza poked at one outside off and edged Prasidh Krishna to slip. Ryan Burl went for successive boundaries off Prasidh and only holed out to deep square leg.
And while they played out Kuldeep, Zimbabwe couldn’t make sense of Axar Patel’s arm balls; Chakabva flayed all around one on 35 and had his stumps disturbed. At 110 for 8, things seemed set to be wrapped up but Brad Evans and Richard Ngarava had some fun, hitting thirties and showing there were absolutely no problems with the pitch once the shine had worn off the ball.
But even a target of 190 wasn’t enough to bring another comeback man Rahul into the middle as Dhawan and Gill polished it off all by themselves just past the 30-over mark. Resuming their successful pairing from the West Indies tour, the openers feasted on Zimbabwe’s failure to control the moving new ball.
The senior partner set the tone with a series of cuts and whips in the first Powerplay. Gill, uncharacteristically not in control on a few occasions, caught up with his pulls and drives, not hesitant to step down the track and flick over the infield.
On the evidence of Thursday, the remaining two games in this series could get interesting only if India were to bat first in the morning and lose a few early wickets.