The home team must overcome their batting and bowling weaknesses to prevent India turning the last two matches into dead rubbers.
Harare: Two one-sided matches later, Zimbabwe have been left with a tall mountain to climb if they are to salvage anything from this series. Beaten by six wickets and 58 runs respectively in the previous ODIs at the same venue, Brendan Taylor's team must win on Sunday before the series moves to Bulawayo for the last two games. For India, a hat-trick of wins will clinch the series and perhaps allow for time to experiment with fringe players.
The bowling has been the biggest worry for Zimbabwe and it is tough to see where the change will come from. On Wednesday, the bowlers were rendered ineffective after two early wickets as Virat Kohli and Ambati Rayudu put on 159 for the third wickets and on Friday, from having India at 65 for 4, the home team was left stunned as Shikhar Dhawan and Dinesh Karthik forged the biggest fifth-wicket partnership for India against Zimbabwe.
Brendan Taylor endured a terrible second game. He dropped Dhawan on 14, bizarrely opted for Sean Williams' part-time spin at the death when his most successful bowler had two overs left and then ran himself out for 0 in a chase of 295. Taylor's drop was one of three lives Zimbabwe gave Dhawan. Taylor's decision to give Williams the 50th over when pace bowler Brian Vitori had only bowled eight proved a sloppy error, because India's tail slammed 23 runs off the last five balls. Such discretions cannot be afforded if Zimbabwe have aspirations of challenging India.
Considering the poor form of Williams and Malcolm Waller, there is a possibility that the legspinning allrounder Graeme Cremer gets a game. The other option, should Zimbabwe choose to try and bolster the bowling, is the veteran left-arm spinner Ray Price who could be playing his last internatonal series.
A 2-0 lead in the five-ODI series has been a fine start for a weakened time led by Kohli. With this Indian outfit clicking in all departments, the plan of moulding a strong team for the 2015 World Cup has received a boost. Wrapping up the series on Sunday will be important, considering India lost twice to Zimbabwe the last time they toured the country in 2010.
That is not to say India don't have concerns. Vinay Kumar has one wicket in two matches at an average of 106 and has looked the most fragile. In the first ODI he bled 45 in his last four overs to end with 1 for 57 in nine overs and in the second he had 0 for 49 in nine. Vinay has struggled with his length and that has seen several batsmen pick him off with ease. Shami Ahmed has two wickets at 48.50 and has also looked culpable at the death. There could be an international debut for young Mohit Sharma, the Haryana seamer who was noticed in IPL 6.
Suresh Raina too has been a disappointment in the middle order, getting out in sloppy manner. He, though, is not expected to be benched for Sunday's match considering he is the most experienced member of the touring party.
When the squad for this low-key series was named, the presence of Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara signalled that India were likely to rotate their openers. Dhawan roared back to form with a match-winning century on Friday, while Rohit commemorated his 100th ODI with a single-digit score. Should the management opt to rest Rohit, there could be an ODI debut debut for Pujara. But this is more likely to happen if the series is secured on Sunday.
Zimbabwe: 1 Vusi Sibanda, 2 Sikandar Raza, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (capt/wk), 5 Sean Williams, 6 Malcolm Waller/Graeme Cremer, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Prosper Utseya, 9 Kyle Jarvis, 10 Brian Vitori, 11 Tendai Chatara
India: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Amit Mishra, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Vinay Kumar/Mohit Sharma, 11 Jaydev Unadkat