A meek surrender from Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club gave India their fourth ODI series win in a row this year and sent the two teams to Bulawayo for the remaining two fixtures with Virat Kohli's team primed for a 5-0 sweep. Its tough to see how Zimbabwe can recover from a hat-trick of defeats, considering the batsmen have been unable to form enough threatening partnerships and the bowling lacks tooth.
Again, Zimbabwe got into a place from where they could push on, only to lose wickets in a cluster. Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor put on 65 for the third wicket but Zimbabwe slumped from 67 for 2 to 89 for 6. Zimbabwe actually did well to last as long as 46 overs after that, but there was never a threat of an upset as Amit Mishra grabbed four wickets. India chased a target of 184 with seven wickets and 87 balls in hand, Kohli top-scoring with 68*.
Zimbabwe were dented early by the loss of their openers in the space of seven deliveries. Vusi Sibanda charged at the third ball of the match and heaved it to cover, and Sikandar Raza wafted at Mohammed Shami's first delivery and nicked to Dinesh Karthik. Instead of buckling, Zimbabwe were steadied by two of their most experienced players.
Masakadza broke the shackles with a couple pushes past mid-off for four off Vinay Kumar and, after being dropped on 23 by a diving Kohli at cover, played a few aggressive shots against Ravindra Jadeja's left-arm spin. Taylor came into the game averaging 16.37 in ODIs this year, with a best of 39, and was solid at one end as he played with a straight bat and a full stride forward.
Their alliance of 65 was snapped when Shami took a tumbling catch at mid-off and Taylor (23) was given out after replays showed the fielder had got several fingers under the ball. From here, Zimbabwe lost three wickets in 17 deliveries, including two in two to Mishra.
Mishra struck in his first over, the 20th of the innings, by getting Masakadza (38) to edge a cut to Karthik and on the next ball, an out-of-sorts Malcolm Waller had no clue about an orthodox legbreak. Elton Chigumbura averted a hat-trick but a wicket-maiden 23rd over from Jadeja, in which the batsman was foxed by a slider for 3, crippled Zimbabwe further. That also gave Chigumbura his first failure against India in ODIs following a run of 24*, 16*, 43* and 46.
Suddenly there was a slip, gully and silly point for India's spinners. Mishra employed the googly liberally and had the batsmen pushing and prodding. Quicker ones and legspinners had them hurriedly playing back. Sean Williams (45) and Prosper Utseya scrapped together 38 in 62 balls before the latter was removed for 10, edging Shami to Karthik, and eight runs later Williams was run out by an alert Jadeja. Brian Vitori's career-best 17 helped in the fifth-highest stand for the ninth wicket against India (34) and Tendai Chatara (23) swung his bat to get the score past 150; a hooked six off Vinay was stunning.
Mishra pocketed 4 for 47 with the wickets of Vitori and Chatara via gogglier to lead the series table with nine.
India's chase was dented early with the wicket of Rohit Sharma (14) in the sixth over, with an obligatory swish outside off stump. The beneficiary was the debutant Michael Chinouya who worked up good pace in his opening spell, even striking Kohli twice on the body. At the other end, however, Zimbabwe's bowlers were not as menacing. Shikhar Dhawan pulled and drove with power, while Kohli punished anything down the pads.
Looking for his sixth boundary, Dhawan (35) punched Chatara uppishly toward cover where Sibanda held a fine low catch. Kohli and Ambati Rayudu were made to fight for their runs - Rayudu was 3 off 19 at one stage - on a sluggish surface and ground out 64 in 16 overs. A high percentage of dot balls made life tough for Rayudu (33 off 54) and looking to force the pace he popped a return catch back to Vitori during the batting Powerplay.
Kohli collected another ODI fifty, off 80 balls, and finished the chase with a flurry of boundaries off Chinouya. Suresh Raina made a breezy 28 off 18 in a partnership of 56.