Virat Kohli scored a scintillating hundred as India beat minnows Zimbabwe by six wickets in the first One-Day International of the five-match series in Harare on Wednesday.
Chasing a modest target of 228, which was possible thanks to Pakistan-born batsman Sikandar Raza, who top-scored with a patient 82, and Elton Chigumbura's 34-ball 43, the World champions had things their way while winning with 31 balls to spare at the Harare Sports Club.
Kohli, who hit a spectacular century against the West Indies while leading the side in the recently-concluded tri-series also involving Sri Lanka, again led by example while scoring 115 and registering his 15th ODI hundred in the process.
It was a virtual cakewalk by the tourists as Kohli and Ambati Rayudu toyed with the home side’s attack after the early departure of openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma.
Rayudu impressed in his long-awaited international debut, scoring a responsible unbeaten 63 off 83 balls.
More importantly, he added 159 runs for the third wicket with his skipper after Dhawan (17) and Rohit (20) were dismissed early.
On a seaming track, Kohli showed his class and temperament as he brought up his 100 off only 102 balls, inclusive of 11 hits to the fence.
When he got a little bit of width outside the off-stump he was quick to play the cover-drive and rocked back to square cut through the point region. Off-spinner Prosper Utseya, in particular, bore the brunt of his assault.
Rayudu was the ideal foil as he eschewed risky shots and was content in rotating the singles and giving the bulk of the strike to his partner.
Kohli’s maturity was evident when he completed his century, scampering home for a single with a push towards cover region. There was no exalted celebration after reaching the milestone; a raised bat was a quite acknowledgement of the applause from the stands.
He celebrated the landmark with a big six before being caught soon after in the deep off Utseya's bowling.
His 115 came off 108 balls and was studded with 13 fours and a six.
India, by then, were within sniffing distance of the target.
Earlier, Zimbabwe made a cautious start but lost their way before Chigumbura's unbeaten knock gave a fighting total.
Leg-spinner Amit Mishra was the most successful Indian bowler, returning figures of three for 43, while there was a wicket apiece for R Vinay Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jaydev Unadkat and Suresh Raina.
R Vinay Kumar was the most expensive, with 57 runs coming off his nine overs.
Zimbabwe openers Vusi Sibanda and Raza took time to settle down, hitting just two boundaries in the first 10 overs.
Debutant Unadkat, Vinay and Shami bowled a disciplined line and length but failed to take early wickets. However, once spin was introduced, Zimbabwe found it difficult to get going.
India could have had a wicket early, but Kohli, at first slip, dropped a straight forward catch from Raza off Ravindra Jadeja's bowling when he was on 27.
However, a couple of overs later, Mishra, in his first ODI in more than two years, provided the breakthrough, trapping Sibanda leg before for 34 off 72 balls.
The opening pair put up a 72-run stand in 21.5 overs.
Zimbabwe continued to crawl and brought up their 100 in the 29th over. It was however followed by the loss of two quick wickets.
Even as Sean Williams (15) got off the mark straightaway with a reverse-swept boundary, his stay at the wicket was cut short by Raina, while new batsman Hamilton Masakadza (11) hit two fours before Mishra saw him off.
Raza, meanwhile, having completed a half-century, started to play freely. He stole a four, followed by a six over deep mid-wicket off Vinay Kumar, but wickets kept falling at the other end as the hosts reach 167 for five in 41 overs.
It was Mishra who finally dismissed Raza for 82 which came off 112 balls.
In the end it was Chigumbura's cameo that enabled Zimbabwe cross the 225-run mark.
Image: Virat Kohli
Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images