‘If you win, people might say they're only a second rate team, and if you lose it's like you can't even beat a second rate team’
India's bench strength will be tested when a second string team takes on Zimbabwe in a three-match One-day series, beginning in Harare on Friday. The youngsters as well as a few seniors in the side hoping to capitalise on the opportunity.
It is India's first assignment after the heart-breaking series-defeat against Asian neighbours Bangladesh and taking the hosts lightly is hardly an option for the World Cup semi-finalists, as the African nation has shown progress and promise of late.
Handed over the captaincy in the absence of seniors, young batsman Ajinkya Rahane has a point to prove after being entrusted the job.
The diminutive batsman was dropped for the last two ODIs against Bangladesh and skipper Mahendra Singh justified his exclusion by saying that the Mumbai player struggles to rotate strike on slow pitches.
Rahane responded sensibly to the criticism and politely asserted that he was playing well.
But he is expected to encounter slow and low pitches in Zimbabwe, as its suits the home team's strengths.
He has to do well to cement his place in the Indian middle-order and other players, like Robin Uthappa, Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav, Ambati Rayudu and Manish Pandey, too will be keen to make a mark.
Bhuvneshwar will spearhead the pace attack and is most likely to have Mohit Sharma as his new ball partner.
It is interesting to see if Rahane opts for three pacers, which would mean that Dhawal Kulkarni will also get a game.
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh is the senior-most player in the side and with Axar Patel is certain to make the playing eleven for the series-opener.
In their historic tour of Pakistan, they lost both ODI and Twenty20 series to the hosts but Zimbabwe's players did not go down without proving a point.
Led by skipper Elton Chigumbara, they batted with determination against a decent Pakistan attack. Sikandar Raza, Vusi Sibanda and Chamu Chibhabha had ensured that Zimbabwe did not look like pushovers.
Australia's Dav Whatmore has worked with this bunch of players and the coach has belief in his players. However, facing India's ‘B’ team, he says, is tricky.
"India are a great team, but then they've changed their group. And it's almost like a different pressure now: that you're expected to do well. If you win, people might say they're only a second rate team, and if you lose it's 'bloody hell you can't even beat a second rate team'. It's a little bit tricky," Whatmore said.
Chigumbura and Sikandar Raza scored centuries in hot conditions in Pakistan and in familiar and more suitable cool conditions at home they will present a good challenge for the Indian bowlers.
Hamilton Masakadza and Sean Williams add to the energy of the home side's batting order.
Coach Whatmore is mighty impressed with Chamu Chibhabha and pleased with the fact almost all of his players can swing their arm if need be.
"We're pretty lucky that two of our batsmen in the top six (Raza and Williams) are both spinners. And then when you think about what we had just a few months ago with Solomon Mire, Elton Chigumbura, and now Chamu Chibhabha also showing good progress, I think we're the envy of a few, to be honest.
"They might not have the experience but I think there's about eight or nine who can bowl in an ODI, and that's a good position to be in," Whatmore said.
India: Ajinkya Rahane (capt), Robin Uthappa (wk), Murali Vijay, Stuart Binny, Manoj Tiwary, Harbhajan Singh, Kedar Jadhav, Dhawal Kulkarni, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Manish Pandey, Axar Patel, Ambati Rayudu, Sandeep Sharma and Mohit Sharma.
Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (capt), Regis Chakabva (wk), Chamu Chibhabha, Graeme Cremer, Neville Madziva, Hamilton Masakadza, Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Tinashe Panyangara, , Sikandar Raza, Donald Tiripano, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller and Sean Williams.
Match starts at 12:30pm IST