India's tour to Zimbabwe, starting with the first ODI on July 24, is a superb opportunity for upcoming players to make a big impression on their skipper and also the national selectors. An opportunity such as this doesn't come knocking very often in the life of a cricketer who is working to establish his place in the side at international level. Especially for the bowlers, as the selectors have rested virtually the whole bowling unit that played in the Champions Trophy and the triangular in the West Indies.
What each player would want to achieve in this series would vary from player to player. Established campaigners like Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja should use this series to take their level of play to a higher level. They should work on their focus and the mental aspects of the game. To be more consistent.
Players lower in the hierarchy, such as Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, should aim to carry on the good work they have done in the West Indies and try to cement their spots in the side for the future. But for the new lot, those that will get a taste of international cricket for the first time and for ones who have been regularly in and out, and haven't been able to get a lengthy run at this level,it will be a Godsend.
As an international side, Zimbabwe is no match for the Indian team, at least on paper. For players like Ajinkya Rahane, Parvez Rasool, Shami Ahmed, Mohit Sharma and Jaidev Unadkat this tour is like learning to swim at the shallow end of the pool. If they find themselves floundering, they will have an opportunity to touch their feet at the bottom. On the other hand debuting against strong sides like England for example, would be a completely different proposition altogether. These players will do well to make the most of the opportunities they get so they have a firm base from which to launch their careers. For the unassuming Amit Mishra, being picked in the side is the the reward for his diligence and perseverance through out the domestic season concluding with the IPL.
Having said that, stepping on to the field for the first time, representing your nation, is a very daunting prospect no matter what opposition you play against. Each player fortunate enough to get thus far as a cricketer faces one bitter foe no matter what. That foe is one's own mind. The toughest opponent one can ever encounter. But the mind can also be the best friend you have if you can convince it to work for you. Its the mental back and forth going on that causes loss of focus and uncertainty in a player. Realizing that the greatest pressure one faces comes from ones own expectations is half the battle won. Once you have things in perspective its easier to trust your instincts and let the abilities come to the fore.
As captain, Kohli would want to use this tour to hone his captaincy skills and discover the assurance that every successful captain possesses. This assurance comes with confidence. And one can only be more confident as a leader by leading effectively enough number of times. Kohli knows that he has enough matches in the series to slowly grow into the role. If Kohli is able to lead well he will be an even greater asset for MS Dhoni when he takes over the reins again. Having an able deputy is always a secure feeling to any skipper.
The Indian team to Zimbabwe is a young side. Even the players with experience are young in terms of age. But they have plenty of international games to their names. They have the advantage of having played against very tough opponents and come out on top more times than not. For Zimbabwe, the biggest advantage is that of playing at home as also the advantage of being the underdogs. With the majority of the people watching not giving them much of a chance, Zimbabwe have nothing to lose and more importantly lots to gain. There will be a lot of positives coming out of this series for the home side, the biggest being five ODIs against the reigning World Cup and Champions Trophy holders. The experience that the local players get out of this would be useful for their future efforts towards building a strong team like the one they had until just over a decade ago.