KL Rahul-Led India Present Huge ODI Challenge For Transformed Zimbabwe

Harare: Transformed Zimbabwe face their biggest challenge since Dave Houghton became coach two months ago when they host India in a series of three one-day internationals, starting on Thursday.Also Read – Not KL Rahul; Mohammad Kaif Wants Shubman Gill to Open With Shikhar Dhawan in ODI Series

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Under the guidance of 64-year-old former batting star Houghton, the southern African nation has won nine of 11 ODI and Twenty20 internationals.

With Houghton in charge, hosts Zimbabwe beat non-Test teams Jersey, Singapore, the United States, Papua New Guinea and the Netherlands to qualify for the 2022 T20 World Cup.

Higher-ranked Bangladesh were expected to burst the bubble, but suffered shock 2-1 losses in both T20 and ODI series.

Pakistan-born batsman Sikandar Raza, whose childhood dream to be a fighter pilot was dashed by an eyesight glitch, played a key role in the ODI series with successive centuries.

“He is a very good player who has been representing Zimbabwe with distinction for a long time,” said India vice-captain and opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan.

“Sikandar is a quality cricketer with bat and ball. I am sure our bowlers will come up with nice plans against him.”

Houghton said the unbeaten innings of 135 and 117 by the 36-year-old had a knock-on effect as they instilled confidence in his teammates.

“Playing alongside Sikandar, Innocent Kaia hit a century in his first ODI, then Regis Chakabva scored his first ODI ton with some brilliant shots.”

– ‘Deserve wider recognition’ –

Former West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop hailed the Raza tons, tweeting “The things that Sikandar Raza has been doing in recent weeks with the bat deserve wider recognition”.

Although missing Kohli and Sharma, Houghton says there is no such thing as a weak India cricket team.

“They could pick four teams and then occupy the first four places in an international tournament. That is how good they are.

“However, I told my boys that we dare not become mere spectators in this series while India play all the cricket. We must believe we can win.

“The boys know they are far from invincible despite nine victories — we were 90-9 in our last ODI against Bangladesh before the tail-enders added 61 runs.

“But if we continue to play without fear and express ourselves, we will succeed far more than we fail.”

Houghton pinpointed poor batting starts as a concern, and vowed to “try and get higher scores from our top order”.

Opening batsman and wicketkeeper Chakabva skippers Zimbabwe in place of injured Craig Ervine on Thursday as the home team seeks only a fifth ODI victory over India at home in 24 matches.

Injuries have also ruled out Blessing Muzarabani (thigh), Tendai Chatara (collarbone) and Wellington Masakadza (shoulder) while former captain Sean Williams is unavailable.

India had to make a late change to a 16-strong squad with all-rounder Shahbaz Ahmed coming in for Washington Sundar, who was injured playing English county cricket.

Opening batsman KL Rahul, a late inclusion after recovering from a hernia injury and testing positive for coronavirus, leads the tourists.

(With AFP inputs)

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