Harare: Pushed to the brink before managing a narrow win in the opening ODI, India will have to quickly sort out its middle-order batting woes when it takes on a spirited Zimbabwe in the second one-dayer here on Sunday.
The visitors huffed and puffed to a narrow four-run win to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series. They will now be keen to clinch the series by taking an unassailable 2-0 lead.
The Zimbabweans showed why it wouldn't be all that easy for Ajinkya Rahane's men to walk away with wins despite being pre-series favourites on paper.
The Indians have much to worry about on the batting front given that the middle order let the side down badly. In fact, had it not been for career-best efforts by Ambati Rayudu and Stuart Binny, even putting up a decent total on the board would have been quite tough for the tourists.
Rayudu, whose previous best score was 121, displayed tremendous maturity to steer India to the 250-plus score in the able company of Binny, who also made a career-best 77 off 79 balls.
The likes of Murali Vijay (1), Manoj Tiwary (2) and skipper Ajinkya Rahane himself will have to come up with improved performances to ensure that India do not find themselves in another embarrassing position again in the series.
Zimbabwe, to their credit, showed stomach for a fight and skipper Elton Chigumbura epitomised that with a gallant umbeaten 104-run knock. Given the spirit shown by the hosts, the series has found the spark that a battle of unequals needs to invoke interest.
The home team's sprightly attitude was also helped to an extent by India's bowlers, who consistently erred in line and length.
Although left-arm spinner Axar Patel and Stuart Binny shared four wickets between them but senior pro Harbhajan Singh will be expected to make a greater impact in his comeback ODI series.
The Indian batsmen, on the other hand, will have to ensure that Chamu Chibhabha (2/25) and Donald Tripano (2/48) do not have the kind of strangling effect that they had in the lung-opener.
Rayudu has already stated that the conditions are particularly favourable for batsmen and his team would prefer to bat first in the series.
"It felt like we were batting in England rather than in Zimbabwe...It is commendable that even though the odds were against us condition wise, we could pull off a win. I hope we win the toss in the coming matches," he said after the close match yesterday.
Chigumbura, on the other hand, wants his frontline batsmen to come up with a more responsible performance and ensure that the team does not have to rely on the lower order in crunch situations.
"I thought the way we kept losing wickets, we didn't get the momentum we needed because we had to keep rebuilding. We kept on trying to build a partnership but up to the end when I ended up batting with the specialist bowlers instead of a batsman, that's probably where we lost the game," he said.
India: Ajinkya Rahane (c), Robin Uthappa (wk), Murali Vijay, Stuart Binny, Manoj Tiwary, Harbhajan Singh, Kedar Jadhav, Dhawal Kulkarni, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Manish Pandey, Axar Patel, Ambati Rayudu, Sandeep Sharma and Mohit Sharma.
Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (c), Regis Chakabva (wk), Chamu Chibhabha, Graeme Cremer, Neville Madziva, Hamilton Masakadza, Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Tinashe Panyangara, , Sikandar Raza, Donald Tiripano, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller and Sean Williams.
Match starts at 12:30pm IST.