Virat Kohli cracked a scintillating century as India thrashed minnows Zimbabwe by six wickets in the first cricket one-dayer to take a 1-0 lead in the five match series on Wednesday.
Chasing a modest victory target of 228, India rode on captain Kohli’s 115 as they overhauled the target with 31 balls to spare in what turned out to be a lop-sided contest at the Harare Sports Club.
Kohli, who hit a spectacular century against West Indies while leading the side in the recently concluded Tri-Series, again led by example to notch up his 15th ODI hundred as he guided the team home after the early dismissals of the two openers.
Ambati Rayudu’s much awaited international debut also turned out to be an impressive one as he struck a responsible unbeaten 63 off 83 balls and more importantly added 159 runs for the third wicket with his skipper.
This was after openers Shikhar Dhawan (17) and Rohit Sharma (20) were dismissed early.
On a seaming track, Kohli showed his class and temperament as he brought about his 100 off only 102 balls with 11 hits to the fence. When he got a little bit of width outside the off-stump, he was quick to play the cover-drive while he rocked back to square cut offie spinner Prosper Utseya through the point region.
Rayudu proved to be the ideal foil as he didn’t play any risky shots and was content in rotating the singles and giving bulk of the strike to his skipper.
The maturity was also evident after he completed his century scampering home for a single with a push towards cover region. There was no exalted celebration after reaching the milestone just a quite acknowledgement of the applause.
He celebrated his landmark with a big six but was soon holed out in the deep off Utseya’s bowling but India by then were within sniffing distance of the target. His 115 came off 108 balls with 13 fours and a six.
Earlier, Zimbabwe scored 227 for seven riding on Pakistan-born opener Sikandar Raza’s gutsy 82 and a 43-run cameo from Elton Chigumbura. Leg-spinner Amit Mishra made a successful return to limited overs cricket with figures of three for 43.
The next match will be played at the same venue on July 26.
Sharma and Dhawan were watchful during their stand of 26 as the ball was seaming around a bit. The flashy Dhawan however got three boundaries in a space of eight deliveries off Kyle Jarvis and Tendai Chatara. The first was an uppish cover drive, the second a square drive and the third a ferocious pull-shot.
The Delhi batsman’s fascination for horizontal bat shots proved to be his undoing as he went for another pull-shot when Jarvis dug one short. He was holed out at deep fine leg boundary.
Rohit, on the other hand found it difficult to get going as he scratched his way to 20 off 40 deliveries before he nicked one from Elton Chigumbura to skipper Taylor behind the stumps.
It was 57 for two when Rayudu joined Kohli, and the duo the steadied the ship. The 50 came in the 13th over and their half-century partnership came off 70 balls. The 100 runs for the third wicket came off 121 ballsand it was a steady cruise for the “Men In Blue’ from there on.
Put in to bat, Zimbabwe seemed to lose track after a cautious start before Chigumbura’s unbeaten knock gave them the much-needed boost.
Pakistan-origin player Raza hit six fours and two sixes while Chigumbura smashed six boundaries and a six during his breezy knock.
Openers Vusi Sibanda and Raza took their time to settle down, hitting just two boundaries in the first 10 overs.
Leaving out medium-pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar did not help India’s cause initially and though debutant Unadkat, Vinay Kumar and Shami bowled to a disciplined line and length, they failed to take early wickets.
But once the spinners were introduced, Zimbabwe found it difficult to get going and India could have had a wicket in their kitty first up. But Virat Kohli dropped a straight forward catch of Raza at first slip off Ravindra Jadeja’s bowling when he was batting on 27.
However, a couple of overs later, Mishra, in his first ODI in more than two years, gave India their first breakthrough trapping Sibanda lbw for 34 off 72 balls. The opening pair put up a 72-run stand in 21.5 overs.
Zimbabwe continued to crawl and brought up their 100 in the 29th over. It was however followed by two quick wickets.
Even as Sean Williams got off the mark straightaway with a reverse-swept boundary, his stay at the wicket was cut short by Suresh Raina for 15 runs, while new batsman Hamilton Masakadza (11) hit two fours before Mishra saw him off.
Raza, meanwhile, having completed his half-century, started to play freely.
He stole a four, followed by a six over deep midwicket off a Vinay Kumar over, but wickets kept falling at the other end and the hosts managed to reach 167 for five in 41 overs.
It was Mishra who finally dismissed Raza whose 82 came off 112 balls.
In the end it was Chigumbura’s cameo that enabled Zimbabwe cross the 225-run mark.