India's fringe players sense opportunity in Zimbabwe series

MUMBAI: Zimbabwe may not be the strongest of opponents but the importance of an away series against them is not lost on India's fringe players who are keen to make the most of the opportunity in absence of their seniors.

India rested regular players including captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and put Ajinkya Rahane in charge of a second-string side for the three ODIs and two Twenty20 matches in Zimbabwe.

The Africans are nine places lower than India in the ODI rankings but for someone like Robin Uthappa, who is expected to keep wicket in Dhoni's absence, the series is precisely what he had been waiting for.

"I am really grateful that I have finally got a whole series to play than just one or two games a year," Uthappa, who played the last of his 43 ODIs late last year, told reporters on Monday.

"I want to make the most of it and want to consolidate my spot in the side."

Uthappa made his way into the Indian team as a 21-year-old hard-hitting opener and impressed immediately hitting 86 in his ODI debut against England in 2006.

He got a decent run in Indian colours but failed to cement his place in the side.

At 29, he's now a more confident cricketer and even sees himself as a possible successor to stumper Dhoni, having taken to full-time keeping recently.

"I know the game I used to play was a flash in the pan. That's good to watch but consistency definitely takes a hit," Uthappa said.

"I didn't capitalise on the kind of opportunities I got as a young guy.

"I was 21 and I could have had a firmer head on my shoulders, I could have had someone to guide me, I could have had a million things.

"I went through my own personal issues that kind of sidetracked me for a few years to the point where I wanted to give up the game. And then I kind of resurrected myself and I fell in love with the game completely."

For India's regular test opener Murali Vijay too, the series presents an opportunity to stake his claim for ODI inclusion.

The 31-year-old right-hander last played an ODI for India two years back and the last of his seven T20 international in January, 2011.

"I always wanted to play all three formats of the game. It's a great opportunity for me," Vijay said. "I got my chances but I have not been getting a (full) series. It's very difficult for a batsman.

"I have been part of the Indian team for seven years now and I have played 14 ODIs, that says it all. Now is the opportunity for me and I hope I can do justice to my talent."

Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who played the last of his 229 one-dayers in June 2011, will also be keen to do well in the series, having lost the number one spinner's place to Ravichandran Ashwin, who has also been rested.

Harare Sports Club hosts the ODIs on Friday, Sunday and next Tuesday, to be followed by Twenty20 Internationals on July 17 and 19 at the same venue.