Heading to New Zealand on the back of Test and ODI series win while becoming first team to not lose a series in Australia, India are brimming with confidence. This is exactly the kind of emotion that India would need to turn things around from a disappointing show in 2014. It has been almost 10 years since India last registered a series win in New Zealand, with India getting blanked 0-4 on the tour in 2014 despite a good show personally for now skipper Virat Kohli.
Despite the historic series win in Australia and return to form for MS Dhoni while steering the team to back-to-back wins including hat-trick of half-centuries, New Zealand is a different challenge altogether. With smaller grounds and a better seam attack comprising Trent Boult, talented Lockie Ferguson and relentless Tim Southee, the Kiwis won’t be pushovers.
India have a disappointing record when it comes to touring New Zealand with only 10 wins to show from 35 matches played including the 0-4 drubbing in 2014. The first match at McLean Park in Napier, is expected to be played in sultry conditions of around 30 degrees and a run fest is on offer.
Kohli is well aware that the Black Caps, with some quality players in their ranks, can be very competitive. “The fact they are No 3 in the world speaks about their consistency over the last couple of years. We played them in India and got beaten in Mumbai, and all the games were competitive and we felt they had a really good balance.
“They have that energy and that buzz about them and they play their cricket in the right way which is something we always appreciate,” Kohli said at the pre-series media conference.
For India, the challenges for the series are: Shikhar Dhawan’s inconsistent form, Dhoni’s batting position and finding the right balance in the absence of suspended Hardik Pandya.
Dhawan’s position at the opening slot is under no imminent threat but a highest score of 35 runs in the last nine games doesn’t read well. With Rishabh Pant being instructed to face the new ball against England Lions in a home series is a possible indicator that the team management are keeping back-up options ready. Shubman Gill has been included into the squad as a reserve opener but it is unlikely that he could come in so quickly even with Dhawan’s failures.
In the middle order, Ambati Rayudu’s run is a reason for concern for the team and his poor show in Australia may not find him a place to face New Zealand. Dhoni moved up the slot at No. 4 in the final ODI against Australia but Kohli is unlikely to stay with that order and use the veteran as a floater depending on match situations. With the Napier ODI promising to be a high-scoring affair, a Dinesh Karthik or Kedar Jadhav could be promoted up the order.
In the bowling department, India are more or less settled with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami expected to find support from another young seamer in either Mohammed Siraj or Khaleel Ahmed. Kohli talked about employing a third seamer in the absence of an all-rounder in Pandya. “Depends on the all-rounder to be honest. If you see the strongest sides in the world, they have two all-rounders at the least, some sides have three, so that gives you a lot of bowling options. “Only if someone like a Vijay Shankar or a Hardik doesn’t play, then (only) three fast bowlers makes sense. Because if an all-rounder can chip in with a few overs of seam up, then you don’t necessarily need a guy bowling 140 kmph as the third bowler along with the two fast bowlers,” said the skipper.
New Zealand enter the series on the back of a comfortable 3-0 series win over Sri Lanka while blanking them in all formats. The hosts smashed the Lankan bowling attack out of the park with runs galore for Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson and Colin Munro.
Their bowling attack is strengthened by Ish Sodhi and Lockie Ferguson who were the chief wicket-takers and proved inexpensive as well. Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Matt Henry had expensive outings without much success. Kiwis would rue the absence of James Neesham – who misses out due to a hamstring injury.
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Siraj, K Khaleel Ahmed, Mohammed Shami, Vijay Shankar, Shubman Gill
New Zealand squad: Kane Williamson (c), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (wk), Colin Munro, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor