India’s impressive win against Zimbabwe in the first ODI of the series was a clear sign of the gulf that exists between the two teams. India would obviously be expected to win the series with ease. At the same India, the visitors led by Virat Kohli should be extremely disappointed if they do not clinch the one-day series 5-0. Even with a second-string side, India are way superior to Zimbabwe on paper. The hosts on the other hand may be on full strength. But this is not the same competitive side it was back in the 90s.
Why India must win each and every match in the series is to prove that they are indeed way better than the Zimbabweans. They have clearly failed to do so in the past -- partly due to their overconfidence and in part because they have not dealt with the conditions in the desired manner. This has meant that even a weak side like Zimbabwe have managed to get the better of the much-fancied Indians in their home den over the years. And, this is not limited to any particular format. Zimbabwe have beaten India at home in Tests as well as ODIs.
India’s record in Zimbabwe over the years gives us crystal clear understanding of their woes in the African nation. India first visited Zimbabwe for a one-off Test in 1992, and put up a superlative batting performance which put India under tremendous pressure. It needed a painstaking hundred by Sanjay Manjrekar to help India save the blushes. In 1998, India shockingly lost the only Test played at Harare. In 2001, they showed a degree of improvement when they won a Test, but failed to clinch the series, which was tied 1-1 after the Indian batting collapsed again. India eventually won a Test series in Zimbabwe in 2005, but by then Zimbabwe were not the competitive outfit they once used to be.
India have underperformed in Zimbabwe in the one-day format as well. In 1997, they lost the only one-day game played, following another shoddy batting effort. They won in 1999, but the margin was a close 2-1. India lost the tri-series in Zimbabwe featuring West Indies in 2001. They had another shot at glory during the 2005 tri series in Zimbabwe. But, they again failed, this time New Zealand, the third team in the fray clinching the series. If anything things only got worse in 2010, when Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe made it to the final at the expense of India.
The above results demonstrate that India cannot take Zimbabwe lightly at all in spite of being favourites to win the series. The burden of failed history in the African nation sits heavily on their shoulders. Of course it will help that they are being led by a positive leader in the form of Virat Kohli, who has no baggage of the poor past behind him. Still, anything less than a 5-0 triumph in this series will be viewed as a moral defeat for India.
--By A Cricket Analyst