After suffering an embarrassing loss to Bangladesh, India did their best to prolong the misery with another what-on-earth-is-going-on performance. Zimbabwe, when they deserved so much more, fell heartbreakingly short of a victory, as a wonderful century from Elton Chigumbura proved to be in vain, in a match that went right to the last ball.
The selectors decided to rest most of India's big-name players, who flopped spectacularly against Bangladesh, giving the reserves an opportunity to shine in blue. Shine they certainly did not, with an inept batting performance, where only Ambati Rayudu and Stuart Binny came to the fore, putting the bowlers under pressure to defend a smallish total.
Put into bat first, India got off to a poor start, showing absolutely no attacking intent against good, but far from scary, Zimbabwe bowling.
Much like in that World cup match against Zimbabwe, India lost too many wickets in a hurry, going down to 87/5, before a much-needed 160-run partnership in 149 balls between Rayudu (124 n.o., 133b, 12x4, 1x6) and Binny (77, 76b, 6x4, 2x6) pulled the away team out of what would have otherwise been an embarrassing batting performance.
The final score of 255 for six in their 50 overs was not something that would have scared the living daylights out of Zimbabwe, and so it proved.
Chigumbura, the Zimbabwe captain, played a stunning knock of 104 n.o. (101b, 8x4, 1x6), which took the home team to the brink of victory, only for an excellent final over from Bhuvneshwar Kumar to curtail those plans.
Needing 10 runs from the final over and with Chigumbura on strike, Bhuvneshwar Kumar produced some really good yorkers/low full tosses to keep the Zimbabwe batsmen at bay and concede just five runs, which meant the home team finished on 251/7, four runs short of India's score.
If the chase was going to happen, you thought Zimbabwe would need a strong start. That was far from the case.
Zimbabwe's batting has always been a little suspect, with that suspicion only increasing following the retirement of Brendan Taylor. India would have known early wickets and they probably had the game in the bag, and Bhuvneshwar gave his team just that by sending Chamu Chibhabha early, after the opener edged one to Ajinkya Rahane at slip.
Vusi Sibanda (20, 35b, 2x4, 1x6) whacked a couple but fell soon after hitting Binny for a six, leaving it all for Hamilton Masakadza and Elton Chigumbura to do. The experienced duo were in the middle of a decent partnership, worth 42, but Axar Patel struck at just the right time for India, with Masakadza (34, 64b, 4x4) getting a leading edge off a ball that spun and just held on the pitch a little.
Sean Williams came and went, with Axar taking another wicket, but a nice little innings from Sikandar Raza (37, 33b, 5x5) kept Zimbabwe in the game.
Every time you are chasing a target, the most important thing to do is to take it to the end, and that is precisely what Chigumbura did. The Zimbabwe captain put on a brilliant 86-run partnership with Graeme Cremer, who did his bit by giving Chigumbura as much of the strike as possible.
Needing 83 runs from the final 10 overs, Chigumbura and Cremer played smart cricket, hitting the boundaries when on offer and putting the pressure right back on the bowlers. There were a few times when the India bowlers cracked under the pressure, but when it came to the absolute crunch time, Bhuvneshwar delivered, much to the disappointment of the crowd at the Harare Sports Club.
Earlier, this new-look side had everything going for them to put on a performance with the bat and show the selectors they deserve their place in the strongest India squad, but Murali Vijay (1, 9b), Manoj Tiwary (2, 14b), Robin Uthappa (0, 3b -- awful behind the wickets, conceding way too many byes and dropping a catch as well, which nearly cost India in the end -- and Kedar Jadhav (5, 13b) all flattered to deceive. It was almost as if they were so desperate to make a mark that they shackled themselves in the process out of the sheer fear of getting out.
The most disappointed of the batsmen, though, will be Rahane, who got off to a start, scoring 34 (49b, 5x4), before throwing away his wicket at the worst possible time. Being the captain there is an added responsibility on Rahane to score runs when the team requires it, but in this first one-dayer, the right-handed batsman failed to provide that.
Instead, it was the man, who took Rahane's place in the middle order in the recent ODI series against Bangladesh, who showed responsibility, anchoring the innings amongst the ruins at the other end to ensure India would get some score of note.
Rayudu struggled initially to find his touch, but the right-hander hung in there and the longer he batted on this slowish wicket, the better it got for him. Credit must also go to Binny, who gave Rayudu company when India desperately needed it, before tonking a few towards the end to ease to his highest score in ODI cricket by some distance.
The selectors chose to pick players on the fringes rather than give an opportunity to some of the younger cricketers like a Sanju Samson, Sarfaraz Khan or a Shreyas Iyer – yes, IPL is not the benchmark to select players – but going by the performances of these batsmen, all in their late 20s to early 30s, it might have not been the greatest of ideas.
Rayudu, who got to his hundred with a six and a four before celebrating like he had just scored a century in a World Cup final at Lord's, though, will be saying he has done his job, and so will Binny.
For the rest, there are two more ODIs and two T20Is to go.