Make no mistake, there is never an easy time to captain the Indian cricket team. Not even on a second-string side’s tour of Zimbabwe. Especially not on a second-string side’s tour of Zimbabwe. Just as Virat Kohli, he’ll tell you.
On India’s previous visit to this part of the world, in 2013, Kohli — the current Test captain — was given his first opportunity to put his leadership qualities on display.
He checked many a right box, such as winning the ODI series 5-0 and giving a few uncapped players their debuts. But what the tour will always be remembered for is the controversy Kohli’s only ‘wrong’ move stirred up.
Captain Kohli hadn’t given Jammu & Kashmir offie Parvez Rasool his cap, even for the inconsequential fourth and fifth ODIs, and back home, we found something to complain about. Even the chief minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah, got involved.
“Did you really have to take him all the way to Zimbabwe to demoralise him?? Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to just do it at home???”Abdullah later tweeted.
Compared to two years ago, another first-time leader, Ajinkya Rahane, has done glowingly well. He’s done nothing controversial to tick off chief ministers, has been among the runs, has led his troop to a whitewash in the one-day series and most importantly, he stuck with his short-on-experience middle order when they weren’t scoring runs and ended up giving them plenty of exposure on this exposure trip.
“I’ve handled all the situations and challenges well, nothing to complain about,” Rahane said at the press conference on Thursday, a day before the start of the first of two T20s lined up between the two sides.
“My first job was to win the series for India, and then think about giving players opportunity. It worked out nicely. We won by the second game and then Manish (Pandey) could get his debut and Mohit Sharma could come into the team in place of Dhawal (Kulkarni) who had bowled well in the first two games.”
Rahane is so non-controversial in nature that when he was asked about the banning of his IPL team, Rajasthan Royals, the captain easily shrugged it off.
“When it happened on Tuesday, we were playing the third ODI, so our focus was only on the game,” he said. But surely there must have been some talk in the dressing room or the hotel, given that five members of this touring squad belong to either RR (Rahane, Kulkarni, Sanju Samson and Stuart Binny) or Chennai Super Kings (Mohit).
“No no, not at all. None of us have spoken about the ban. Not even once. Our focus is on this tour and the upcoming T20 series,” he said. “The players aren’t here to talk about the IPL.”
But we are, because the IPL nicely tells us the difference between these two sides going into the T20 series.Let’s start with the youngest member of India’s T20 squad, 20-year old Sanju Samson. Samson is yet to represent India in any form of the game, but T20 exposure at the highest level, he sure has.
While representing Rajasthan Royals in just two seasons, 2014 and 2015, Samson has played 44 matches, hit seven fifties, scored 941 runs and has 35 dismissals as a wicketkeeper to his credit.
All this against the Chris Gayles, Aaron Finches and AB de Villiers of the world.
Now compare the most inexperienced member of the Indian side to the most experienced T20 player in the Zim side, Hamilton Masakadza, and you’ll see how wide the gulf between the two sides really is. Masakadza has only tasted seven matches worth of experience in a T20 franchise outside of Zimbabwe.
For the Sylhet Royals in the BPL. And no one has played more T20Is for Zim than Masakadza, and that’s a total of 33 games.
Only one Zimbabwean apart from Masakadza has even played 30 matches. Off-spinner Prosper Utseya, who has been barred from bowling his off-spin.
“Look, we don’t have nearly the same experience as those guys. They have the IPL and all of that, we don’t have that here,” Masakadza said later.
“We just have to work with what we have got and we’ll try and use our recent experience of having played T20s against Pakistan in May.”
In the two T20s in Lahore that kicked off that tour of Pakistan, Zimbabwe twice posted 170 plus scores and twice Pakistan chased it down in the final over. They came real close, but ‘real close’, as Zimbabwe coach Dav Whatmore says, is not the finish line. Masakadza, though, disagrees.
“We were competitive there and have to continue putting ourselves in such positions more often,” Masakadza said. “Instead of getting frightened by our record and the gap between us and some of the other teams, the idea is to come as close as possible so that we can eventually learn to cross the finish line. If you put yourself there often enough, the results will come.”
Thanks to the IPL again, Rahane’s side has no such stage fright in nail-biters of course. But that doesn’t mean he’s taking the opposition lightly.”Against Zimbabwe, in Zimbabwe, on these slow wickets, it can get difficult. Plus in T20s it takes only two or three overs for a side to turn a game around,” he said. “But I have full trust in this group of players and we are looking to win both matches.”
And Rahane must, if he wishes to continue skirting controversies. Because this was precisely the juncture on the previous tour when Kohli dropped his guard and all hell broke loose.