KL Rahul, Faiz Fazal and Yuzvendra Chahal: India's gains from the ODI series vs Zimbabwe
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KL Rahul, Faiz Fazal and Yuzvendra Chahal are India's biggest gains from Zimbabwe ODIs


The dust is has settled after the conclusion of the India-Zimbabwe ODI series, and all that is left from the battles is a battered and bruised Zimbabwean unit, while the visitors barely broke a sweat.

Like the one-sided battles that the British colonialists fought against the natives in the African continent at the dawn of their empire, India breezed through the series with three easier-than-expected chases, winning by nine, eight and ten wickets respectively to complete a 3-0 whitewash.

What makes the defeats even more embarrassing for the hosts is the fact that these miserable performances came against a second-string Indian side. And even though the tourists were led by charismatic World Cup-winning skipper MS Dhoni, there was little that the latter had to do as he let the youngsters take charge for once.

(From left to right): KL Rahul, Yuzvendra Chahal and Faiz Fazal. AFP/Sportzpics

(From left to right): KL Rahul, Yuzvendra Chahal and Faiz Fazal. AFP/Sportzpics

One would have expected the hosts to improve with each passing game, learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the touring party, as well as a thing or two from their mistakes.

Instead, the Graeme Cremer led-side only got worse as the series progressed. It did not help their case that Hamilton Masakadza and Dav Whatmore were sacked as the captain and head coach respectively ahead of the tour, with the former getting to retain his place in the squad. As if the enormity of the task that lay ahead wasn't enough, they decided to leave bad blood in their squad, especially for the youngsters, with such vicious chopping and changing.

As far as their performances are concerned, their batting collapses only got worse, and the bowling all the more lacklustre, which is highlighted by the fact that only five members of the Indian camp got to bat, out of which, a certain Manish Pandey, faced only one delivery.

If Zimbabwe getting bowled out for 168 in the first game, with some late boost from veteran all-rounder Elton Chigumbura down the order, seemed poor, then one would run out of words to describe the manner in which the batting order collapsed in the next couple of matches, with the hosts losing four wickets in as many balls in a dead rubber of a final one-dayer.

India's tour to Zimbabwe has been seen as an opportunity for the national selectors to scan the best of talent out from the Indian Premier League (IPL), and then test them in unfamiliar conditions. And every such trip — whether 2013, 2015 or the current one — has been met with similar results, with India recording their third consecutive ODI series sweep on Zimbabwean soil with their latest victory.

The bowling unit, which captain Dhoni had described as the more experienced compared to the batsmen ahead of their departure for Harare, got plenty of practice, with most of the pacers and spinners bowling a minimum of six overs per game. It is the batting unit however, in which the opportunities were restricted to a privileged few, since only three wickets were lost in the entire series.

The most notable among the batsmen who did not get to bat at all was Dhoni, although he admitted to preferring a comfortable victory rather than looking forward to bat. More importantly, it is not as if he needs the opportunity either.

But Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Mandeep Singh, etc deserved a shot to say the least, but ended up warming benches as the likes of Rahul and Faiz Fazal shined with the bat. And this beats the purpose of the tour in its essence. Let us hope luck favours them in the upcoming T20Is, in which India are expected to sleepwalk their way through the series without getting so much as a scratch, as usual.

The Zimbabwe tour has helped certain individuals present a strong case before the national selectors for the more important tournaments on the road ahead, by carrying their form from the IPL/domestic cricket over to the international front. That turned out to be the case for the likes of Rahul, Fazal and Yuzvendra Chahal, all three of whom have made the best use of the opportunity handed to them in their debut run.

Karnataka wicketkeeper-batsman Rahul, whose consistency in the recently-concluded IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) was overshadowed by some of the more illustrious batsmen in his team, is a prime example in this regard. Having already got his Test career off to a flying start with two centuries from five appearances, it was only a matter of time before Rahul kick-started his one-day international career off in style – a century on debut, with an unbeaten 63 a couple of games later, and an overall average of 196 in three games. One would almost associate this series with the man who seems to have the coolest hair-do in the squad as well.

He is however, not the only one to translate IPL consistency into international success, and Yuzvendra Chahal can be described as Rahul's counterpart in the bowling department. A fellow member of RCB's unit in IPL 9, the leg-spinner from Haryana charted the Bangalore bowling unit's meteoric rise towards the business end of the tournament, with Virat Kohli and co blasting their way into the final before being stopped by Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Getting an opportunity to don the blue jersey had to knock on his door at some point, and Chahal was quick to make an impact with a series of consistent performances. A three-wicket haul in the second one-dayer was among the performances that helped him emerge as one of the finds of the tournament for India as well as finish as the leading wicket-taker after Jasprit Bumrah. It will not come as a surprise if the Indian selectors consider him as a specialist spinner alongside Ravichandran Ashwin for the home series against New Zealand later this year, which will be his real test.

Last, but certainly not the least, the academic fixture that was the third one-dayer was the day left-handed Vidarbha opener Fazal finally managed to live his dream of playing for India, even if the opportunity came to him at the age of 30. Incidentally, Fazal is perhaps the only member of the squad to not have featured in India's cash-rich T20 league in the recent years, and his claim to fame was a series of performances in the Deodhar Trophy final as well as the Irani Trophy earlier in 2016.

It took him  more than 5,000 first-class runs from 79 appearances to finally earn a call-up to the senior team, and he ensured that he made the most of the opportunity by hammering a half-century on debut with a fine selection of shots all over the ground, opening the innings alongside Rahul with a bruised finger. And even though this performance along may not turn out to be enough to guarantee him a place in the team in the tougher battles ahead, he will be content with the idea of breaking at least one barrier for now.

The Twenty20 fixtures, which kick off on 18 June, are not expected to be very different from what we have seen so far in the series so far, although the hosts will look to avoid the situation that will force interim coach Makhaya Ntini to go looking for a tomato tree. Some fightback from the hosts, however unlikely it may seem after their listlessness so far, would be welcome. Not only will the fan banners reeking of disappointment in the stands disappear, it will also help instill a sense of a proper international tour among the youngsters, who probably are yet to understand the complexities and pressures of playing in alien conditions.

First Published On : Jun 17, 2016 10:20 IST

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