Things (almost) worked out the way Team India anticipated. A 3-0 whitewash in the ODIs and 1-1 stalemate in the T20 format. When BCCI decided to send a second string team to Zimbabwe, two things were certain – one, to fulfill an obligation to a fellow Cricket playing team of a tour and thereby, some revenue and two, to rest key players so that they are fit for bigger challenges. This allowed the players outside the playing 11 to show their mettle and stake a claim in the playing 11. After all, if some players in the playing 11 are banned (after their names are released in the IPL spot fixing and betting sham), there are places up for grabs, right? (sic)
Anyway, many players tried to make the most of the opportunity at hand and some succeeded –
- Ambati Rayadu (Runs: 165 | Average: 165) – With scores of 41 and 126 not out in the 2 matches he played, Rayadu was easily the star batsman of the series from Team India’s perspective. He topped the batting chart. He proved once again that he deserves the spot in the playing 11. Rayadu can be utilized at number 4/5 depending on the situation and be act as a perfect support for MS Dhoni towards the end of the innings.
- Kedar Jadhav (Runs: 126 | Average: 63) – Kedar Jadhav scored a match winning 105 not out which propelled him to be among the top 3 batsmen of the series (Rayadu and Chibhabha being the top 2). His century came in under difficult circumstances, which is why I feel he made the cut. The only negative factor is his age (30 years). Now, I am not saying people who crossed a certain age should not be considered. After all, we are living in an era where Pravin Tambe (age: 43) is making younger spinners work hard for their pay-check!
- Manish Pandey (Runs: 71 | Average: 71) – Manish Pandey made his debut in the 3rd ODI. He came in when the chips were down for Team India (82/4). His composure in the middle stood out in perhaps the toughest of circumstances possible. In other words, he made it count. At only 25 years, he still has a long way to go and despite playing only one game, I feel BCCI should give his candidature serious consideration and should at least include him consistently in the India ‘A’ setup coached by Rahul Dravid.
- Notable omissions – Ajinkya Rahane (112 at an average of 37.33), Murli Vijay (86 at an average of 28.66), Robin Uthappa (44 at an average of 14.66) and Manoj Tiwari (34 at an average of 11.33) are the players who missed out on making their mark. With Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma as regular openers, there is no space for Murli Vijay / Robin Uthappa. With MS Dhoni having his aspersions on Rahane, he hardly did anything that can make Dhoni think otherwise!
- Stuart Binny (Batting 120 @ 60 / innings | 6 wickets @ 25.16 apiece) – Stuart Binny had a lot of negativity surrounding his inclusion in the World Cup squad. He was considered an alternative to Ravindra Jadeja who had cemented his place in the playing 11. With Jadeja “dropped” from the tour of Zimbabwe, Binny had a genuine chance to occupy the vacant all-rounders’ spot. And boy, did he grab it with both hands? Roger that!
- Bhuvneshwar Kumar (Wickets: 5 | Average: 16.0) – Team India’s pace department needs a spearhead. A bowler who can bowl quick (as per Indian standards), swing both ways and most importantly, pick wickets. If statistics are to be believed, B Kumar seems to be that guy. But that is where it’s stuck. He always “seems” to be that guy; he has never actually grabbed that position. With age (25) on his side, he still has time though. His performance in Zimbabwe will go a long way in instilling confidence among the selectors.
- Axar Patel (Wickets: 5 | Average: 24) – R Ashwin finally has some competition! A young left arm spinner from Gujarat is spinning his way into the Indian team. His performances are demanding attention. He definitely needs to remain in the squad and can be included in the playing 11 based on the pitch conditions. If only one spinner is needed, Axar needs to match Ashwin for performances to be considered as Team India’s #1 spinner.
- Harbhajan Singh (Wickets: 4 | Average: 27.5) – From a future #1 spinner to an ex #1 spinner. “Turbanator” has taken his second comeback a lot seriously and is apparently enjoying his stint. No aggression over dropped catches, no frustration over not able to take wickets every ball. It appears that he is just enjoying his second innings in international cricket. And this attitude is actually helping him perform. Although I am not very sure if this performance (and also in Bangladesh) will help him win a permanent slot in the playing 11, but he is doing himself huge favour by performing at the highest level. Along with Axar, he can provide support in the spin department.
Despite India winning the ODI event 3-0 and not losing the T20 event, the highlight of the series will be Zimbabwe winning the final T20 match to make it even and thereby forcing Indian fans to view our team through the prism of doubt. But all that’s done and dusted. Most of us immediately move on to the next battle. Some of the players mentioned above are already part of the Indian squad and should continue to play a part based on their recent performances. Others can continue performing hoping for the selectors’ attention.
Next up is the series against Sri Lanka. Wonder how often do we have to play each other till we realize that there are other teams as well? It shouldn’t always be about friendly relations, right?