Zimbabwe put up a spirited defence this time of another small chase, but a second successive batting failure meant they didn’t have the runs to really test the Indian batsmen. Going for their shots on a spicy surface even if it meant getting reduced to 97 for 4 at one stage, India sealed the three-match ODI series with a five-wicket victory, reaching the target of 162 in just 25.4 overs, and rendering the third game at Harare Sports Club on Monday inconsequential.
Deepak Chahar – who’d run through the Zimbabwe top order with 3/27 in the first ODI to end a six-month injury layoff – was left out on Saturday, probably to avoid playing three ODIs in five days immediately upon comeback. However, his absence made no difference to Zimbabwe’s fortunes, as Chahar’s replacement Shardul Thakur also snapped up three wickets to send the hosts tumbling to 161 all out in 38.1 overs.
Zimbabwe’s best chance to rattle India in this series was to win the toss and hopefully pick up a few early wickets with the moving ball in the 9.15am start. But instead, they had to face the Indian pacers first again, and to add to their misfortune, the bounce on this surface was sharper and heavier than it was in the first ODI.
They even made a change in the opening combination, bringing in Takudzwanashe Kaitano for Tadiwanashe Marumani, and again, tried only to blunt the new balls, without looking to score. Like it had in the first ODI, it even worked for a while; there was no extravagant movement to counter too in the absence of Chahar, although Mohammed Siraj began with an over of lovely outswingers.
On Thursday, the initial breach had happened in the seventh over, on Saturday, that was achieved in the ninth. Kaitano hung his bat at another straightener from Siraj, and wicketkeeper Sanju Samson plucked it one-handed with a dive to his right.
India had been trying the surprise short ball every now and then too, but despite getting into awkward positions as it flew at them, the Zimbabweans had been escaping. Thakur got it right at the start of his third over, though, getting it to climb into Innocent Kaia, who gloved his pull to the keeper.
By the time Regis Chakabva had walked in on Thursday, Zimbabwe were already 31 for 4, and he’d flailed his way to a futile 35 even as he started to run out of partners. On Saturday, the skipper arrived at No 4 now but lasted all of five balls. Out of nowhere, in the same over, Thakur produced a curling beauty, angling it in and forcing Chakabva to play as it kicked and left him to fly to second slip.
Once more, amid the need for repair and recovery at 31 for 4, Zimbabwe played too many needlessly audacious strokes. In his premeditated attempt to take on Kuldeep Yadav, Sikandar Raza ended up scrambling back and cutting a delivery off the line of leg stump straight to short third man.
Sean Williams is always busy when the sweeps and reverse-sweeps are flowing, and for a while on Saturday, they were. At 105 for 5 in the 28th over, Zimbabwe had the time and a bit of batting left to push towards a total of around 225. With two left-handers Williams and Ryan Burl working around the ball turning into them, Axar Patel had been taken off, and Kuldeep Yadav wasn’t getting it to do much. Suddenly, Williams went for a slog-sweep against the turn to Deepak Hooda, and picked out deep square leg to depart for 42 in a volley of frustration.
Although Burl hung around until the end, there was no lower-order resistance unlike in the first ODI, and a couple of mix-ups soon terminated the innings in twin run-outs.
After watching Shikhar Dhawan and Shubman Gill do it all by themselves in the series opener, KL Rahul promoted himself to open for his first batting stint in the middle since the Indian Premier League. He went fifth ball, walking across outside off stump and missing a clip across the line to be trapped plumb in front by Victor Nyauchi.
At the other end, Tanaka Chivanga worked up some serious pace and bounce, but he was also often wayward. Chivanga did consume Dhawan with a sharp bouncer that burst onto the left-hander, who could only top-edge a weak pull after beginning the chase in T20 mode.
The bad version of Ishan Kishan turned up, looking absolutely out of sorts. He clipped his first ball almost straight to midwicket and struggled for timing throughout a 13-ball stay that finished when he edged a desperate crack at a big drive on to his stumps off Luke Jongwe.
Gill, at No 3, displayed his range of drives and punches until a cut, played with both feet in the air, ended in third man’s grasp. It was down to Hooda and Sanju Samson to finally shut the door on Zimbabwe; Samson hadn’t had the best of games with the big gloves, but didn’t let go the chance to have some fun with the bat, bashing his fourth six to bring up the win.
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