ZIMBABWE SERIES UNDERLINED LIMITED OVERS BENCH STRENGTH
Aug 23, 2022: One has to analyze lop sided results with the greatest care. Was the winning team all that strong? Was the opposition really that weak that they went down tamely in almost all the matches? Should the performances of the players on the winning side be then put in the proper perspective and one should not go overboard in praise? Did they really get only cheap runs and wickets against opposition that clearly didn’t belong anywhere near their stature in the rankings?
Yes, the rankings that come into the picture for the just concluded three match ODI series saw India ranked No 3 take on Zimbabwe ranked No 13. It really didn’t matter that the mismatch took place in Harare. The disparity between the side was so crystal clear that the home side enjoyed no advantage at all. A 3-0 clean sweep was predicted and that’s how the series ended.
But then the players can only take on the opposition they are pitted against and it would not be fair to be lukewarm about the performance of the Indian cricketers. The quality of the opposition is no reason to undermine the efforts of the squad which was essentially a young one in the absence of several senior players. In fact, they deserve every praise in maintaining their calm under the direction of ‘Captain Cool’ KL Rahul in the final ODI when Sikandar Raza almost steered Zimbabwe to victory.
That India possess a wealth of talent in the two limited overs formats was underlined by the series. Test cricket is essentially for specialists but the flexibility of ODIs and T-20 means that the bits and pieces or utility players become very important – those who can bat a bit, bowl a bit and field admirably. The bench strength is abundant and it augurs well for both the T-20 World Cup later this year and the 50 overs World Cup to be held next year.
And then there are the stand out young players like Shubman Gill who is a special talent. His sparkling century in the final ODI – his first in this format – was only confirmation of what we all know, that he is bound for bigger things. He is one player who can fare just as well against stronger bowling units. It is always a pleasure to watch a gifted stroke player and the 22-year-old from Punjab has given us many moments to savour in his comparatively brief international career. On the other hand, we have an old warhorse in Shikhar Dhawan, who in his 37th year, retains the enthusiasm of his youth. He still bats with the gay abandon that saw him get an enthralling hundred on Test debut. Praise is also due to the young bowlers who bowled out Zimbabwe in all the three games, twice for low scores.
It is not a pleasant sight to see Zimbabwe in action on the field these days especially for those who remember the promise the team held out in the late 90s and the very early years of the new millennium. The days of Andy Flower and Heath Streak are a thing of the past and for various reasons that have been well documented Zimbabwe cricket has fallen on lean days. There are several naturally gifted players in the team however and once the clouds have been lifted one can see Zimbabwe perform much better. At the moment however, they will continue to be fodder for top teams like India.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)