India beats Zimbabwe by 9 wickets

AFTER  a tough baptism in Test cricket, KL Rahul would be the first to heave a sigh of relief that his One-Day International debut was the exact opposite — smooth sailing. His unbeaten 100, the highest score achieved by an Indian debutant, alongside Ambati Rayudu’s fighting 62 not out steered India to a clinical nine-wicket win against Zimbabwe on a tricky Harare surface in the first ODI yesterday (Saturday.)

The result, which was achieved with 7.3 overs to spare, was as much due to India’s pace trio, led by Jasprit Bumrah (4/28), as the batsmen, after Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss and opted to field and the bowlers obliged by bowling Zimbabwe out for 168.

Three players — Rahul, Karun Nair and Yuzvendra Chahal — were handed ODI debuts and in a show of confidence, India opted to open the batting with the first two. Though Nair succumbed to the bounce generated by Tendai Chatara and made his way back to the dressing room for 7, Rahul batted with calm and clarity.

He found the gaps easily at the beginning and was alert to take quick singles when boundaries dried up. At the other end, Ambati Rayudu had a torrid start to his innings. Chamu Chibhabha (0 for 14 in eight overs) had the No. 3 batsman frazzled in the 12th over, beating him thrice as no runs came.

India was behind Zimbabwe’s score at the same stage of the innings, but where the fortunes of the two teams diverged was the Indian batsmen battled it out and cashed in. Zimbabwe blinked first as loose balls were put away by both batsmen, and the game started to drift away from the home side.

Rahul brought up his maiden half-century in just 56 balls while Rayudu found his footing and hit a fifty too, albeit taking 37 more balls for the effort than his partner. And though it seemed the target wasn’t big enough for him to get to a hundred, Rahul stepped on the gas to get there with a booming six into the stands when just two were needed for the win, but six were needed for his century. An unbeaten 162-run partnership between Rahul and Rayudu was a comprehensive statement in itself, and it will give India plenty of confidence going forward in the three-match series.

A 9am start usually means there will be some movement for the pace bowlers in the first hour, and India made full use of that as Zimbabwe got bogged down at the start of the match.

After the early wicket of PJ Moor, trapped lbw by Barinder Sran, Zimbabwe’s innings stuttered, hovering around three runs an over. In situations like these, it would be easy for a captain to try to be innovative for the sake of innovation, a stab at injecting some excitement into the match, but Dhoni was happy to play the waiting game.

It paid off as a fifth over on the trot for Dhawal Kulkarni resulted in the big wicket of Hamilton Masakadza. In his last four outings in ODIs, the former captain had strung together some consistency with scores of 110, 26, 83 and 47, but just as he was looking to break the shackles, he fell caught behind for 14.

Chibhabha had made a painstaking 13 in 42 balls and when he too departed, Zimbabwe slipped to 47/3. But it wasn’t as if India was wholly threatening throughout. Sran strayed too much on the leg side, Bumrah was guilty of overstepping and Zimbabwe didn’t cash in on several full tosses that were on offer. Two catches were also put down.

Yet, nitpicking aside, India’s inexperienced XI proved to be more than a handful for Zimbabwe. Craig Ervine and Sikander Raza weren’t allowed to free their arms and joined the procession.

The only batsman who seemed to have some measure of the pitch was Elton Chigumbura. He top-scored with 41 off 65 balls, but by the time he had arrived at the crease, Zimbabwe was struggling at 77/5 and he could only delay the inevitable. – ANA