Harare: Lokesh Rahul’s debut ton guides India team to nine-wicket victory over Zimbabwe in the first ODI of the three match series in Harare on Saturday.
Chasing a paltry target of 169, the Indian batsmen hardly broke sweat as they comfortably cruised home in 42.3 overs.
Playing his first ODI, Rahul completed his coveted three-figure landmark with a huge six over deep mid-wicket off seamer Hamilton Masakadza, when there was only two runs required to win the match.
He found an able ally in Ambati Rayudu (62 n.o.) as they added 162 runs in 38 overs for the unbroken second wicket partnership even though the Hyderabadi batsman was not at his fluent best.
When he reached 87, Rahul also became the highest individual scorer on debut eclipsing Robin Uthappa’s 86 against England on his ODI debut in Indore, back in 2006.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team were in complete control of the proceedings right from the start as the hosts never looked like putting up a fight during the course of the match, once they were put into bat.
After Jasprit Bumrah (4/28), Dhawan Kulkarni (2/42) and Barinder Sran (2/42) made full use of the conditions where there was help for seamers, Rahul-Rayudu pair kept calm as they chased with minimum fuss.
They were effective without being scintillating as they did not play too many adventurous shots during their partnership.
While Rahul hit seven boundaries and a six in his 115-ball innings, a relatively subdued Rayudu picked up during the second half, hitting five boundaries in 120 balls.
Rayudu, who hit his sixth ODI half-century, also completed 1000 ODI runs during his innings, becoming the fifth fastest to do so in 29 innings.
While Rahul was impressive on debut, another debutant Karun Nair (7) could not cash in on the opportunity as he was dismissed cheaply.
With the pitch being a tricky one, the duo needed time before they started playing their shots. The Karnataka lad, who already has two Test hundreds against Australia and Sri Lanka respectively, hit some attractive cover drives as well as square cuts off both seamers and spinners.
Whenever pacer like Tendai Chatara provided width outside the off-stump, Rahul was equal to his task while skipper Graeme Cremer’s leg-breaks were also treated with disdain.
With the target being a small one, building the innings was never a problem as the mediocre bowling attack of the home team hardly proved to be a threat to Rahul and Rayudu.
Earlier, Indian pacers made good use of the conditions to bowl out hosts Zimbabwe for a meagre 168 after Dhoni called it right at the toss.
The pace trio of Sran, Kulkarni and Bumrah responded well to their captain’s call by sharing the bulk of the wickets amongst themselves. Even Axar Patel (1/26) and debutant leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal (1/28) also were impressive.
Zimbabwe, all out in 49.5 overs, would have found it tough to cross the 150-run mark if it was not for the efforts of Elton Chigumbura, who made a gritty 41 off 65 balls in his 200th ODI for his country.
The Zimbabwe innings never got going with their batsmen struggling against the Indian pace battery.
It was an early morning start and the ball moved around. Sran, who did well in the IPL, was on the money from ball one. He could have had Chamu Chibhabha lbw on his very first ball the umpire thought the in-swinger did a bit too much.
The left-arm pacer, however, did not have to wait long for a wicket as he caught Chibhabha’s opening parter Peter Moor in front of the stumps with another inswinger.
The batsmen found scoring extremely difficult before Kulkarni had the experienced Hamilton Masakadza caught behind to make it 30 for two in ninth over.
Soon first change Bumrah made his presence felt by removing Chibhabha (13) and Vusi Sibanda. The Zimbabwe looked more comfortable against the spin but the Indian tweakers too ended up with tidy figures.
The hosts had lost half their side after Axar Patel sent back seasoned batsman Craig Ervine, leaving Zimbabwe reeling at 77 for five in 24 overs.
Zimbabwe would have found it difficult to cross the 150-run if it wasn’t for the sixth wicket stand between Chigumbura and Sikandar Raza (23), who shared a handy 38-run partnership.
Chahal, who was picked in the team after a productive IPL, bowled well on his ODI debut but had to wait as late as his 10th over to get off the mark in international cricket. His memorable moment arrived when he had Richmond Mutumbami caught at long-off.
All-rounder Chigumbura waged a lone fight as his partners succumbed at the other end. The innings highest-scorer also had a bit of luck on his side as he was out on a no-ball when Bumrah overstepped the line in 48th over.