The last time India toured Zimbabwe, they went with a captain who had won a T20 World Cup, a 50-over World Cup and a Champions Trophy title. That wasn't a full-strength Indian side. This isn't one either. But this Indian team is led by one of their seven captains from recent times.
KL Rahul is back in action after a long layoff, which included a surgery for sports hernia, and a positive Covid-19 test. What could make Rahul comfortable is that Zimbabwe is where he struck a century on ODI debut, and finished as the leading scorer when India blanked Zimbabwe 3-0 in 2016.
India are without some of their top players , and it might be Zimbabwe's best chance in a while to topple a team ten places above them in the ICC rankings. Though Zimbabwe themselves are also depleted - because of injuries - they are coming in on the back of fantastic series wins in both white-ball formats against Bangladesh. They would be itching to build on that form to grab some World Cup Super League points, where they are currently placed 12th, to gain in confidence before they fly to Australia for ODIs and the T20 World Cup. Against Bangladesh, they chased down totals of 304 and 291 in successive games, Sikandar Raza scored centuries in both games, Innocent Kaia in the first, and captain Regis Chakabva in the second. But Zimbabwe's top order - which slipped to scores of 62 for 3, 27 for 3 and 18 for 3 in those three games - will have to find better answers against India's bowling. Against the Indian bowlers, the "fearless brand of cricket" will be tested more than it was when they played Bangladesh.
Along with keeping an eye on Rahul, the team management will follow the progress of Deepak Chahar closely. Once India's prime new-ball bowler in T20Is, Chahar returns to the field after a long [since February] layoff because of injury. He has dropped back in the pecking order for the T20 World Cup, at least going by the selections for the Asia Cup, in which he is among the reserves. A different format, but these games will be an audition for Chahar ahead of the T20 World Cup.
Raza took the Player-of-the-Series award for the ODIs against Bangladesh, but the "unsung hero", according to him, was Luke Jongwe. He didn't take too many wickets but came on to bowl in tough situations once the morning moisture had dried up in batting-friendly conditions, and dry up the runs for Bangladesh in the middle and death overs. How he comes up against India's middle-order batters and finishers could be key for Zimbabwe.
Rahul batted in the middle order the last time he played ODIs but he is among India's frontrunners for an opening slot at the T20 World Cup. Will the management open with him to get him some practice at the top or will they continue to bat him in the middle? Shikhar Dhawan and Shubman Gill opened for India in the ODIs in the Caribbean and they could continue there if Rahul is slotted lower down. With no Suryakumar Yadav and Shreyas Iyer in the squad, Rahul will come in, of course, and Ruturaj Gaikwad could make his ODI debut at some point in the series.