The ODI series proving to be a stroll in the park, Mahendra Singh Dhoni would look to finish his current season with another dominant performance when he leads India in the three-match Twenty20 series against a hapless Zimbabwe, starting in Harare on Saturday.
Riding high after inflicting a 3-0 whitewash on the hosts, Dhoni and his boys will try to do an encore in the shortest version as well.
The likes of Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, who toured here last time, will do well to remember that the T20 series in 2015 ended in 1-1 draw after the Ajinkya Rahane-led side lost the second game.
But the world’s most experienced T20 skipper in-charge and a team which has 14 out of the 15 players (save Faiz Fazal) with IPL contracts, India again are runaway favourites to decimate a Zimbabwe side which at times has looked inferior than many of the lower-rung first-class Indian sides.
With the gulf between the two teams being so huge, Dhoni would ideally like to shuffle his batting order a bit and also try out some of the benchwarmers like Mandeep Singh, Jayant Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat, who will also be itching to get a game under their belt.
However, Dhoni would ideally like to start the T20 series with another resounding win and having found a winning combination, he will ideally not like to tinker with it.
The small group of Indian supporters would be disappointed if Dhoni at least doesn’t promote himself up the order in one of the games as everyone is waiting to see the skipper devour a below mediocre Zimbabwe attack.
KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Ambati Rayudu and Dhoni himself are certainties in the T20 line-up as well. However, it will be a choice between Karun Nair and Faiz Fazal for the opener’s slot.
Nair got to open in two ODIs and while he got 39 in the second game, he didn’t exactly seem comfortable while left-hander Fazal looked elegant during his half-century in his debut international game.
But then Nair has been a consistent T20 player for both the suspended Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils in the IPL with a decent strike-rate of 122-plus over 64 games (IPL and domestic matches included).
Fazal, on the other hand, has a strike-rate of over 105 in the shortest format and has not had an IPL contract since 2011.
While Punjab-lad Mandeep will be eager to get his maiden senior cap, Dhoni, to be fair, would like to give Kedar Jadhav a hit as he did not even get a chance to bat in the three ODI matches that India won by 9, 8 and 10 wickets respectively.
The pitch at the Harare Sports Club ground has had something in it for the seam bowlers but due to an afternoon start, it might just enable better conditions for batting.
Zimbabwe are likely to find it slightly easy to deal with the Indians in the shortest format as the game can change in a over or two with a couple of quick wickets or a few sixes here and there.
But the lingering doubt with Zimbabwe is the fact that the team has not shown any stomach for a good scrap which makes them ‘lambs for slaughter’ in front of a bunch of players who have had a staple diet of T20s over the years — thanks to the cash-rich IPL.
Rahul, fresh from his exploits in the IPL as well as the just-concluded ODI series, will like to tee off from where he left.
Similarly Manish Pandey, a very competent T20 batsman with some fantastic innings in IPL over the years, will pose a serious threat for the Chamu Chibhabhas and Elton Chigumburas.
The bowling unit has done a splendid job so far with the trio of Dhawal Kulkarni, Jasprit Bumrah and Barinder Sran impressing one and all with their skill and discipline.
While Dhawal has concentrated on channel bowling with his stock delivery being outswinger, Sran has got the inswingers going.
Bumrah, India’s best T20 bowler in the last season, has not only worked up decent amount of pace but at the same time he as got sharp inward movement to right-handed batsmen, who have looked clueless more often than not.
If Dhoni opts to rest Sran, he can have a like-for-like replacement in Unadkat, who is also a left-armer but with varying skill sets and lesser pace.
The two spinners — leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and left-arm spinner Axar Patel — have also been economical apart from providing the team with crucial breakthroughs.
While Chahal with his googlies and flighted leg-breaks provides an attacking option for Dhoni, Gujarat’s Axar is a restrictive option with his flat bowling devoid of any significant turn.
If one of the two is benched, then the skipper might turn to lanky Haryana off—break bowler Jayant Yadav, who can also be a restrictive option as he does not turn his deliveries.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain and wk), KL Rahul, Faiz Fazal, Karun Nair, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Mandeep Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, Barindar Sran, Dhawal Kulkarni, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Jaydev Unadkat, Jayant Yadav.
Zimbabwe: Graeme Cremer (captain), Vusimuzi Sibanda, Sikandar Raza, Elton Chigumbura, Hamilton Masakadza, Wellington Masakadza, Tendai Chatara, Chamu Chibhaha, Donald Tiripano, Malcolm Waller, Peter Moor, Tapiwa Mufudza, Tinotenda Mutombodzi, Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Taurai Muzarabani, Brian Chari, Neville Madziva, Timycen Maruma.