A tour like the one beginning on Saturday between Zimbabwe and India is often devoid of any context whatsoever. And quite naturally so, amid the mellow ticket sales and buzz-less build up, the truth is that not many care about the outcome of the limited overs series that awaits.
But for a few, irrespective of what the world might think, the significance is never diluted and the context never gone because a good performance in such competitions might go unnoticed, but bad performances won’t.
While each of the sixteen players in the Indian squad will want to send out a message with the help of their on-field act over the next couple of weeks, here we take a look at three individuals who can make the most out of this flash in the pan series.
Once hailed as India’s young Wasim Akram, Unadkat’s international career has been a dispirited one. After being fast tracked into the Indian Test team in 2010 against South Africa, not only has Unadkat been unable to add to his solitary Test cap, he has played just seven ODIs for India over a period of nearly six years.
Of those seven ODIs, last of which he played in November 2013, five came during India’s tour of Zimbabwe earlier that year – a series in which he ended as the second highest wicket-taker with eight wickets at an average of 17.37. Unadkat, still young at 24, returns to the Rainbow Nation in what can be best described as his last bid to revive a rapidly diminishing international career.
However, this time around, Unadkat has one of his best first-class seasons behind him. Playing for Saurashtra, the lanky left-armer finished as the tournament’s eighth highest wicket-taker with 40 wickets at an average of 20.12 and with the second best bowling strike-rate among the top ten wicket-takers.
This series is a golden opportunity for Unadkat and he needn’t look beyond Rohit Sharma’s exploits in Zimbabwe ‘10 (tri-nation series involving Sri Lanka) to know what kind of an impact a string of masterful performances can have.
After spending ages in the fringes of the Indian cricket team, Pandey finally made his ODI debut for India in Zimbabwe last year. It was at Harare that the 26-year-old grabbed that opportunity on debut with both hands, scoring a fighting half-century (86-ball 71) after coming out to bat with India at 82/4 in the 22nd over.
While to resume business at the same venue a year later might just be another fresh start, Pandey would be mindful of the fact that in a rare occurrence, he now happens to be India’s first choice number four batsman – ahead of the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina.
Pandey’s presence at the top of that pecking order has got a lot to do with his scintillating unbeaten 104 against Australia in Sydney earlier this year. Not only did that innings display Pandey’s mastery with the bat, but it also showed how well the youngster could pace his innings and craft a chase.
A few good knocks from Pandey will not just reaffirm the faith the selectors have shown in him, but will also widen the gap between him and his immediate competitors.
Epitaphs of MS Dhoni’s playing career were nearly written when he scratched around during countless innings over the last year and a half – but if the IPL is anything to go by, the master is slowly returning to form.
Saying so, the glimpses of brilliance like the last over blitzing against Kings XI Punjab’s Axar Patel aren’t enough to keep the mouths shut for long and captain Dhoni will be aware of that. It was therefore indeed a pleasant surprise for many to see him pad up for this nondescript series, leading a new look & teething Indian side.
However, the concerns are galore – with his absence from the Test arena, the Indian players are increasingly moving towards Virat Kohli’s brand of cricket, which might make the stoic Indian ODI skipper feel a little out of place. Somewhere in the middle of the giant Kohli wave, Dhoni and his desire to play in the 2019 World Cup stands intact, but not for long.
Dhoni’s last series in Zimbabwe came over a decade ago in 2005 when he was still establishing himself as the poster boy of Indian cricket, and those happy memories could very well act as a catalyst to trigger the revival.
Not to forget that the South African continent has been kind to him – his performances (362 runs at 72.40) playing for India ‘A’ in the Kenya Triangular Tournament ’04 got him an India call-up and the World T20 ‘07 win in South Africa helped him earn his stripes – a return to the land where it all started might just be what Dhoni needs to tell the world that he’s not done yet.
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