BULAWAYO (TIP): India have had little to complain about on this tour. The series was sealed at the earliest possible opportunity, and their other target of trying out some fringe players is also working well. Ambati Rayudu made a big contribution on his debut, another new face Jaydev Unadkat was the bowling star in the second ODI and the third India player to debut this series, Mohit Sharma, turned in an impressive performance as Zimbabwe were rolled over for 144 in the fourth ODI.
One of their minor gripes could be that Cheteshwar Pujara’s much-awaited bow in limited-overs cricket didn’t go to plan, with Pujara inside-edging Tendai Chatara for 13. They would have also liked this secondstring squad to have been tested more by Zimbabwe, who have been disappointingly limp, rarely putting India under pressure. In Harare, Zimbabwe’s batsmen could at least fall back on the excuse that the new balls curved around extravagantly in the first hour but even against the easier conditions in Bulawayo they came up short.
Zimbabwe’s troubles were highlighted by the first ball itself, as Mohit served up a beauty that beat Vusi Sibanda and zipped perilously close to the top of the stumps. Mohit has played only six domestic onedayers so far, but he showed no nerves in his opening over as he delivered an inswinger, outswinger and a bouncer, all with superb control. He beat the inside-edge and the outside-edge regularly in his opening spell, and even showed off the back-of-the-hand slower ball which served him so well in his spotlight-grabbing IPL season this year.
As ever, Zimbabwe’s openers were cagey at the start, with Sibanda taking 16 deliveries to get off the mark. Mohit, with the experience of only six domestic onedayers, showed no nerves as he maintained a tight line and length with the new ball, before his persistent probing was rewarded with the wicket of Sikandar Raza, nicking through to the keeper. Zimbabwe then began to be more adventurous despite the disciplined bowling, with Hamilton Masakadza effortlessly whipping Mohammed Shami over square leg for six.
Just as the partnership was developing, Ravindra Jadeja’s accurate arm struck again, with a bullet throw to the stumps that left Masakadza repenting attempting a quick single. The introduction of spin hampered Zimbabwe further, as Jadeja extended Brendan Taylor’s horror run. Taylor hasn’t been in form this year, and was mortified to be adjudged lbw for a duck to a delivery that was clearly sliding down. In the next over, Jaydev Unadkat knocked over Sean Williams’ off stump after the batsman missed a straight one.
When Jadeja removed the opener Sibanda in the 16th over, Zimbabwe were in serious trouble and India’s most dangerous bowler of the series, Amit Mishra, hadn’t come on to bowl yet. Elton Chigumbura has been Zimbabwe’s most successful batsman this series, and once again he was called on to right things after the specialist batsmen floundered. With the help of Malcolm Waller, he defied India for over 20 overs, generally playing it safe though there were some eye-catching strokes like the powerful loft over Mishra’s head for four.
Waller also took his time before latching on to the loose deliveries on offer, like a flighted full toss from Mishra that was swatted for four. With the batting Powerplay taken, Waller swung a shortish ball from Shami for six and Zimbabwe looked for a late flourish. There was no late flourish, however, as Mohit returned to break the 80-run stand, getting Waller to edge behind. The innings didn’t last too long after that as Zimbabwe’s tail was clueless against Mishra, but it lasted long enough for Chigumbura to complete a well-made half-century.
Zimbabwe’s 144 was never going to be much of a challenge for India, who took their time in completing the win. Pujara departed early, and the team management wisely decided against sending in the inform Virat Kohli, giving Suresh Raina the chance to spend some time in the middle. Rohit Sharma has also had a lean run in this series, and he cashed in at a venue which must rank among his favourites – his only two previous innings for India at the Queens Sports Club were centuries.
He added an unbeaten 64 to that, and Raina too helped himself to a half-century as the pair put on 122 to complete another all-too-easy victory for India.