Don’t read too much into below-par Indian effort against Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe vs India
Zimbabwe vs India (PC: Zimbabwe Cricket)

When Avesh Khan hit the full toss to Sikandar Raza at long off, the Zimbabwe captain couldn’t believe his luck. It was the decisive eighth wicket and from there on Zimbabwe couldn’t lose. Having failed to qualify for the T20 World Cup after losing to Uganda, this was something Zimbabwe cricket very badly needed.

The few thousand present at the Harare Sports Club had found voice and cricket, and it yet again, proved why cricket is such a great leveller. Had India won the game, it would be considered routine. So, what, if the seniors haven’t travelled. This team still has a bundle of talent and is expected to beat Zimbabwe. In fact, I’d still say that the first game was an aberration. For Zimbabwe, however, it meant the world. You have beaten the world champions and have become the first team to beat India in 2024. It is some achievement and will go a long way in giving Zimbabwe cricket a much-needed boost.

Zimbabwe, with one fantastic result on Saturday night, aren’t pushovers anymore. Their bowlers have caught the Indians napping and given them a rude jolt. In Sikandar Raza they have a player who performs like a man possessed. The way Raza bowled and led the side was spot on, perfect. Blessing Muzarabani, a star for Zimbabwe, said they aren’t overawed by India and have the team to trouble the Men in Blue. Raza said the same in the pre-match press conference as well. For Zimbabwe there is nothing to lose and in such a situation, the teams often tend to punch above their weight. India, on the other hand, will have to guard against any kind of complacency and can’t really look too far ahead. It can be a tricky series and all that should matter to India is to win it and move on.

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Shubman Gill vs Zimbabwe
Shubman Gill vs Zimbabwe (PC: Zimbabwe Cricket)

The best part about the current Indian set up has been the support extended to players who have struggled. Shubman Gill is a prime example. While it is true that optimum utilisation of resources is of paramount importance and the series against Zimbabwe is India’s best chance to get the combination right, going forward, it is also true that players need to be backed long term for them to come good. Rohit did the same with Axar Patel, Rishabh Pant and Shivam Dube in the World Cup and each played a part in the triumph. I am sure VVS Laxman will back skipper Gill and others like Riyan Parag, Abhishek Sharma and Rinku Singh. They will also get a game more to prove their mettle. In all fairness, one game proves nothing and while we laud Zimbabwe for what they did, nothing really is lost for Indian cricket.

In sum, the Zimbabwe series is one to hone skills, be clinical and plug the gaps. Without Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, India now has the chance to experiment and try out the talent it has had on the bench. Laxman will need answer to a few questions and that’s what he will be aiming to get at the Harare Sports Club on Sunday afternoon in front of what promises to be a packed crowd.

For Zimbabwe, it is far more than a cricket match. It is an opportunity to humble the world champions for the second time in a row and script history of sorts. It is also a chance to give their fans a new lifeline and a new song to sing and also prove that the sport in Zimbabwe may have taken a backward step but things are gradually getting back on track. They will want to showcase the talent they have and instil belief. Most important, give their fans in Zimbabwe some joy, which they badly need. From the scenes on Saturday evening we know what it means to the fans. We know that a series win against all odds can bring a troubled society together and give the sport a new lease of life.

All of a sudden, a rather ordinary series has got new meaning. That’s the big takeaway from the below par Indian effort in the first game.

Also Read: Zimbabwe shock India in first T20I