You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Rahul’s rise, backing Bumrah and other takeaways from Zimbabwe v India

Wisden India logo Wisden India 23-06-2016

During India’s 3-0 rout of Zimbabwe in the One-Day International series that concluded on June 15, the most remarkable statistic was that the combined number of balls faced by Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni, Axar Patel, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jasprit Bumrah and Yuzvendra Chahal – each of whom played all three ODIs – was a grand total of one. Pandey was the lucky one who got to feel bat on ball in the 50-over format, putting away the solitary delivery he faced for a boundary in the second ODI. For the rest, the top order chased down three substandard targets set up by the bowlers with ease, while Zimbabwe were bowled out in two ODIs and lost nine wickets with Sean Williams injured in the second.

The Twenty20 Internationals, thankfully from a spectator’s point of view, weren’t such one-sided drubbings. Still, an Indian side made up almost entirely of those who wouldn’t break into a first XI, came out 2-1 victors on Wednesday (June 22). What did the short tour tell us? Or more to the point did it tell us something we didn’t already know, or cast some additional or fresh light on matters known, but not explored? To some extent, it did.

KL Rahul in white-ball cricket

© AFP Photo

In IPL 2016, KL Rahul showed that the perceptions of him as one who could only do well against the red ball were vastly misplaced. He played a succession of innings filled with sparkling shot-making. Carving a batting niche in a team that had Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle and Shane Watson was a feat in itself. Rahul continued the good work against Zimbabwe. Although it must be acknowledged that the bowling standard wasn’t the highest, you can only bat against the bowlers you are up against, and Rahul showcased his temperament, doing enough and more to warrant an extended run in India’s white-ball squads too. True, he didn’t have the same success in the three T20Is as in the ODIs, but he didn’t look out of place when he spent time in the middle.

Zimbabwe’s troubles

In a column on Wisden India, Tristan Holme described the situation in Zimbabwe as nearing rock bottom. Holme wrote of the financial difficulties that Zimbabwe Cricket is beset with which prevent the forming of a professional structure, and given that fact, “Zimbabwe will not produce cricketers that are able to compete on the international stage, no matter who coaches them”. The India tour bore out that fact well. Makhaya Ntini, the interim coach, talked a good talk with ‘If you don’t send your strongest team here we will put them under the carpet’. He may have even believed it, though it’s pretty certain not many others did. But against a very far from full-strength side, Zimbabwe showed that they could compete only in the shortest format, the one whose structure ensures weaker teams have a better chance of toppling stronger ones. Winning the first T20I and running India very close in the third one were good achievements, but the only thing that could have redeemed the ODI shellacking was a T20I series win, which Zimbabwe didn’t seem to have in them.

Jasprit Bumrah – attack leader?

Bumrah showed enough glimpses in Australia that he should be a part of India’s limited-overs plans for the foreseeable future, that he was an investment worth making for the long term. This series was Bumrah’s first outing as the leader of the attack, and his reputation was only enhanced. His economy rate in the T20Is was 4.83, the best among all bowlers, and in the ODIs it was 2.98, just behind Axar Patel’s 2.32. He wasn’t just parsimonious, he had the wickets too, with 14 in all across the six limited-overs matches. The quality of the opposition will be pointed at, but Zimbabwe gave India stiff competition in two of the three T20Is, and Bumrah still emerged with honour while bowling in the Power Play and at the death. The unquantifiable pressure and expectation that comes with leading an attack was also handled well. He will develop still as he goes along, but the start continues to be encouraging for India.

India’s bench

Tours to Zimbabwe in recent years have been all about testing out the bench strength. It’s true that several players have been given international debuts and not all have become future India regulars. But that is only to be expected. If having a long international career was a natural corollary to handing out a cap, there would never be a player with less than 100 ODIs and 50 Tests to his name.

While Zimbabwe’s slide as a cricketing nation is sad, the fact that they are a weaker opposition allows for teams like India to give opportunities to those who deserve them but can’t break into the first squad. A Zimbabwe tour is thus also an avenue for the Indian selectors to reward performers who otherwise have to wait their turns for long. That is not a moral judgment, it’s just the way things are. For those in the second rung, this opportunity is gold, because it is still international cricket, and if they do well, they can expect to be first in line should a spot open up elsewhere. In that regard, the fact that Zimbabwe put up a fight in two T20Is was the best thing that could have happened for India. The steam-rolling wins in the ODIs didn’t really tell you much apart from the obvious, but in a tight game the indefinables that make a successful cricketer – like character, holding up under pressure, putting your hand up to do the tough task – can all be gauged.

MS Dhoni – finisher, finishing or finished?

© Getty Image

He batted for a total of only 30 balls, all in the three T20Is. But that Dhoni scored only 28 runs and could only find the fence twice and never go over it, was quite atypical. It is never – and I repeat never – wise to write off any great of the game. In coloured clothing, Dhoni stands up there as one of the finest in the history of cricket. But even accounting for his pedigree, even accounting for the nature of T20 cricket that will have more failures than successes, this was a disappointing tour for Dhoni the batsman.

Dhoni the wicketkeeper maintained his standards. And Dhoni the leader was perhaps most valuable in a team of rookies. “I definitely felt that he opened up quite a bit. He had a lot of interactions with the players. He made the effort to go out and mingle with them. He probably invited them for dinners and playstation sessions together. He went out of the way to make them feel comfortable,” said Sanjay Bangar, the coach of the team, after the series. “He emphasised the value of how to handle pressure under match situations. I think those were enormous learnings and what he also did fantastically was he passed on the tradition of Indian cricket. This younger lot are the future of Indian cricket and the way he shared his experience was very, very similar to how the earlier generation used to pass on the knowledge and the experience and just to make a younger player comfortable in the dressing room.”

So is Dhoni still the finisher supreme? Is he already finished? Is he in the finishing stretch? The only thing you can say is it’s still too soon to answer any of those questions.

Photos: How Indian team’s jersey has progressed over the years

How Indian cricket team’s jersey has progressed over the years: 1992- There’s blues and then there are blues so it’s worth debating if India’s 1992 jersey Down Under was Navy, Midnight or the staid Oxford blue. But when colour came to World Cup clothing, it brought with it the stripes on the shoulders (white, red, green, blue) like the test pattern of colour bars in TV with India in san serif yellow. How Indian team’s jersey has progressed over the years

More from Wisden India

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon