A test of character awaits Suresh Raina and his boys
The Twenty20 World Cup debacle still fresh in mind, a new-look Indian team will look to test their bench strength when they face Zimbabwe in the opening match of a triangular ODI series, also involving Sri Lanka, in Bulawayo on Friday.
With big names rested for the series, the tournament comes as an opportunity for youngsters to prove their worth at the international level, especially with the 50-over World Cup just over nine months away.
It will also be a test of character for young Suresh Raina, who will make his captaincy debut after as many as eight senior players including regular captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, were rested for the tournament.
But what might work in Raina's favour is that he will lead a bunch of young, fresh and fit players who are eager to perform at the international arena and be in the reckoning for a place in the Indian team.
Raina has an aggressive deputy in Virat Kohli, who will be keen to prove his worth to the selectors after being ignored for the Twenty20 World Cup.
Image: Suresh Raina
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani
Pace-bowling department a big concern for India
Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and leg-spinner Amit Mishra also have a point to prove after the Twenty20 World Cup snub while Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma and Dinesh Karthik along with Raina will form the core of the Indian line-up during the series.
Other rookies who will be looking to make a mark are off-spinner R Ashwin and aggressive wicket-keeper batsman Naman Ojha.
However, an area which will be a matter of concern for Raina is the pace department. With the likes of Ashok Dinda, R Vinay Kumar, Pankaj Singh and Umesh Yadav, the Indian seam attack lacks experience and it remains to be seen how the quartet fairs in pressure situations.
Incidentally, the Raina-led side has a fair idea about Zimbabwean conditions as players like Pankaj Singh, Pragyan Ojha and Rohit were part of the A team that toured the African country in 2007. India last sent a full side to Zimbabwe way back in 2005-06.
On the other hand, the absence of so many international stars have irked the cash-strapped Zimbabwe Cricket which was banking on this series to revive the game in the country.
With very little international cricket scheduled in Bulawayo, the tri-series is also seen as Zimbabwe's last chance to test their abilities before the next year's World Cup.
Image: Dinesh Karthik
Cricket will help portray a positive image of Zimbabwe
After hosting Sri Lanka in 2008, Zimbabwe have played minnows like Kenya, Bangladesh and Afghanistan at home and the successful hosting of this series will portray a positive image of cricket in Bulawayo.
From the tournament point of view, Sri Lanka have also fielded a young team and have rested key players, prominent among them are regular skipper Kumar Sangakkara and the in-form Mahela Jayawardene.
Like India, the series also provides Sri Lanka the opportunity to test their resources and allow a few youngsters the to gain some international experience.
India: Suresh Raina (capt), Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Ashok Dinda, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik, Amit Mishra, Naman Ojha, Pragyan Ojha, Pankaj Singh, Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay, R Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav.
Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (capt), Andy Blignaut, Chamu Chibhabha, Charles Coventry, Graeme Cremer, Craig Ervine, Greg Lamb, Hamilton Masakadza, Chris Mpofu, Ray Price, Ed Rainsford, Vusi Sibanda, Tatenda Taibu, Brendan Taylor, Prosper Utseya.
Image: Zimbabwe's Elton Chigumbura