Harare, July 9:
A second string Indian side faces the huge task of bouncing back from a rare One-Day International (ODI) series loss to Bangladesh as the three-match series against Zimbabwe starts at the Harare Sports Club here on Friday.
The Zimbabwe series comes after full strength India, led by their talismanic skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, lost the three-match series 1-2 in Dhaka. With the 2011 World Cup-winning skipper rested alongwith six other seniors including vice-captain Virat Kohli, the batsman Ajinkya Rahane-led side will be under pressure to live upto the expectations of its legions of fans.
However, the series offers great opportunities for the fringe players of the team due to the absence of established stars like batsmen Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina, and bowlers like Ravichandran Ashwin and Umesh Yadav.
Among others, the performance of veteran off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who made a comeback to the ODI squad after four years, will be keenly followed. He last played an ODI in June 2011 against the West Indies while he was last picked for T20Is in September 2012 against Australia.
The 35-year-old from Jalandhar, once former captain Sourav Ganguly’s favourite slow bowler, has 259 wickets from 229 ODIs since making his debut in 1998. Harbhajan, who lost his place to Tamil Nadu off-spinner Ashwin, will be accompanied by left-arm tweaker Axar Patel. Earlier leg-spinner Karn Sharma was selected for the tour but opted out with a left middle finger injury.
Murali Vijay, who is a regular opener in Tests, is likely to partner Rahane at the top of the order as Manish Pandey and Manoj Tiwary are the other batsmen in the squad. All-rounder Stuart Binny will also look to showcase his skills with bat and ball.
Skipper Rahane, who was dropped for the final two ODIs in Bangladesh as Dhoni thought the Mumbai batsman is incapable of rotating strike on slower pitches, will be under pressure on both fronts — batting and captaincy.
Among the pacers, Dhawal Kulkarni, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma were retained with Punjab’s uncapped Sandeep Sharma joining them.
No specialist wicketkeeper has been named in the squad but Robin Uthappa, Kedar Jadhav and Ambati Rayudu, all of whom have been selected, have kept wickets in the past.
The last time India travelled to the African country, the Kohli-led side won 5-0 and this time also the Indian team will be optimistic of a similar result.
World No.11 Zimbabwe need performance from batsmen Hamilton Masakadza, Chamunorwa Chibhabha and Vusimuzi Sibanda and bowlers like Prosper Utseya and Tinashe Panyangara. Skipper Elton Chigumbura and Sean Williams will share the dual responsibility of contributing with both bat and ball.
India squad: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Murali Vijay, Ambati Rayudu, Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Harbhajan Singh, Axar Patel, Dhawal Kulkarni, Stuart Binny, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep Sharma.
Zimbabwe squad: Elton Chigumbura (Captain), Sikandar Raza Butt, Regis Chakabva, Chamunorwa Chibhabha, Graeme Cremer, Neville Madziva, Hamilton Masakadza, Richmond Mutumbami, Tinashe Panyangara, Vusimuzi Sibanda, Donald Tiripano, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller and Sean Williams. (IANS)