Harare, July 9: India's bench strength will be tested when a second-string team takes on Zimbabwe in a three-match One-day series beginning here tomorrow with the youngsters as well as a few seniors hoping to capitalise on the opportunity.
It is India's first assignment after heart-breaking series-defeat against Asian neighbours Bangladesh and taking the hosts lightly is hardly an option for the World Cup semifinalist as the African nation has shown progress and promise of late. (Indian team to tour Australia)
Handed over the captaincy in the absence of seniors, young batsman Ajinkya Rahane too has a point to prove after being trusted for the job by selectors.
The diminutive batsman was dropped for the last two ODIs against Bangladesh and skipper MS Dhoni justified his exclusion by saying that the Mumbai player struggles to rotate strike on slow pitches.
Rahane responded sensibly to the criticism and politely asserted that he was playing well. But he is expected to encounter slow and low pitches in Zimbabwe as its suits the home team's strength.
Rahane has to do well to cement his place in the Indian middle-order and other players such as Robin Uthappa, Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav, Ambati Rayudu and Manish Pandey too would be keen to make a mark.
Bhuvneshwar will spearhead the pace attack and is most likely to have Mohit Sharma as his new ball partner. It is interesting to see if Rahane opts for three pacers which would mean that Dhawal Kulkarni will also get a game.
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh is the senior-most player in the side and with Axar Patel is certain to make the playing XI for the series-opener.
In their historic tour to Pakistan, they lost both ODI and Twenty20 series to hosts but Zimbabwe players did not go down without proving a point.
Led by skipper Elton Chigumbara, they batted with determination against a decent Pakistan attack. Sikandar Raza, Vusi Sibanda and Chamu Chibhabha had ensured that Zimbabwe did not look like pushovers.
India: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Murali Vijay, Ambati Rayudu (wicketkeeper), Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav (wicketkeeper), Robin Uthappa (wicketkeeper), Manish Pandey, Harbhajan Singh, Axar Patel, Dhawal Kulkarni, Stuart Binny, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep Sharma.
Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (captain), Regis Chakabva (wicketkeeper), Sean Williams, Chamu Chibhabha, Graeme Cremer, Neville Madziva, Hamilton Masakadza, Richmond Mutumbami (wicketkeeper), Tinashe Panyangara, Vusi Sibanda, Sikandar Raza, Donald Tiripano, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller.
Match starts 12.30 PM IST
2nd ODI on Sunday (July 12)