Captain Fantastic: Kohli has been a huge success standing in for MS Dhoni as India skipper against Zimbabwe
Venue: Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo
Date: Thursday Aug 1
Time: 08:00 BST
Current series scoreline: 0-3
Thursday sees the fourth one-day international in the current five-match series between Zimbabwe and world champions India at the Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo.
The tourists, led by stand-in skipper Virat Kohli, will be eyeing a 5-0 clean sweep from the final two ODIs after comprehensively winning the opening three encounters that were all played at the Harare Sports Club last week.
Conversely, the home team captained by middle-order batsman Brendan Taylor will be hoping to salvage some pride, although the manner in which they have been outplayed does not bode well for the remaining two contests.
The opening match of the series last Wednesday saw India triumph comfortably by six wickets with 31 balls to spare thanks to a near-perfect century from captain Kohli, the 15th ODI ton for the experienced No. 3.
Of greater significance was the eye-catching debut of India No. 4 Ambati Rayudu, who in the absence of other big-name middle-order batsmen, grabbed his opportunity to shine by seeing the tourists over the line with a mature 63 not out that bodes well for the future.
"It feels marvellous. It's been pretty emotional. More than nervous, I was very emotional," said the 27-year-old right hander of his maiden international innings.
Two days later, a closer encounter took place between these two nations at opposite ends of the International Cricket Council ODI rankings, although it ended in the same result, a win for India by 58 runs.
This time it was the new superstar of international cricket, dashing India opener Shikhar Dhawan, who lit up proceedings with the third limited-overs century of his brief international career to date.
The free-scoring left hander may have had plenty of luck after being dropped more than once by Zimbabwe's accommodating fielders, but the 27-year-old took full advantage by recording an eye-catching 116 from 127 balls, hitting 11 fours and two sixes.
With stand-in wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik also adding a quick-fire 69, the visitors set their hosts a daunting 295 to win, a target they never looked like reaching after the bowling efforts of new boy Jaydev Unadkat.
The 21-year-old left-arm paceman, who like Rayudu also made his ODI debut in the first game, picked up the first two wickets to stall early Zimbabwe momentum on his way to impressive figures of four for 41 from 10 overs, including three maidens.
Afterwards, man-of-the-match Dhawan admitted that: “I was just fortunate enough that they dropped my catches today,” before adding: “Our team is gelling really nicely. All the young boys are very fit and really good in the field. Fielding wise, we have really improved a lot. I feel like everything is working our way."
That left Taylor’s men having to win Sunday’s third ODI to keep the series alive, but the home side crumbled to their worst defeat of the series to date after losing the toss and being asked to bat.
This time it was the loopy leg spin of experienced wrist spinner Amit Mishra that was the hosts’ undoing. The tweaker returned man-of-the-match figures of four for 47 from 10 overs as Zimbabwe were rolled over for 183 in only 46 overs. None of their players managed a half century.
India strolled to victory with a mammoth 87 balls to spare and seven wickets in hand thanks to yet another fine knock from the in-form Kohli, who remained unbeaten on 68.
Taylor was honest enough to admit that: “"I think [the problem is] mental toughness. I don't think we're mentally sharp enough. We're just not making the precise decisions at the right time and not putting a real price on our wickets. Too many soft dismissals.”
Who will win the fourth ODI?
Conditions in Bulawayo for the remaining two games should prove similar to those in the capital.
That means pitches that favour the batsmen, although Taylor did warn that: "Bulawayo is a bit more friendly in the morning to the batters, though there was a bit there against Bangladesh not too long ago so each side may have to be up against the ball nipping around a little bit.
"But that generally burns off pretty quickly and then it gets really good to bat on."
Zimbabwe are going to need to raise their all-round game significantly if they are to avoid the ignominy of a 5-0 whitewash.