Daijiworld Media Network
Napier , Jan 19: Hello and welcome to the series opening ODI between India and New Zealand at Napier. Whilst India are the Number 1 ranked ODI side, New Zealand are languishing at 8th place. But that does not tell us the entire story.
Blustery conditions. Strong gusting wind. The Indians were enveloped in two layers of woolen during their rigorous practise sessions over the past couple of days. The New Zealand skipper, Brendon McCullum and coach Mike Henson have urged the groundsmen to prepare fast, bouncy tracks to intimidate the Indian batsmen. A stiff challenge awaits Mahendra Singh Dhoni's merry men.
The New Zealand side is riding on a wave of confidence following their impressive showing in the ODIs and T20Is against West Indies. Adam Milne, who clocked 153.6kph during one of the T20Is has created considerable buzz. Tim Southee, who missed the first half of the West Indies series, returns to the side after recuperating from a toe injury. As is the norm, Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor will lead the Kiwi batting.
Having failed the pace test in the South Africa ODI series the young Indian batting department will have to rise to the occassion if India are to maintain their top dog status. With Yuvraj Singh given the cold shoulder, either Raina or Rahane will occupy the Number 4 berth. There are a few new faces in the Indian line-up. Stuart Binny, the son of World Cup winning allrounder, Roger Binny, has been given an opportunity to showcase his credentials. Madhya Pradesh quick, Ishwar Pandey, is the other uncapped player in the squad. The injury prone, Varun Aaron makes a comeback to the side after a near one year hiatus.
India have won the toss and have opted to field
Brendon McCullum: 'We would have batted first anyways. We played some good cricket against West Indies. This is a completely different challenge. India are a much stronger side. We want to develop some consistency. We have obviously got four very good fast bowling options. On a fast bouncy wicket here, Adam Milne is a good match. It's just the way it is with four high class bowlers. You got to pick horses for courses. Whilst he (Mills) is not playing, he will help out the younger guys'.
MS Dhoni: 'We are looking to bowl first. Looks like a good, dry, hard wicket. It means it will not change over a period of time. The practise facility is good. For about four/five days, the batsmen and bowlers spent time. The field positioning and with a strong breeze blowing, you have to take a wise decision. Today seems to be a good day. Every series we play is important for us. It will be good for few guys who have not played in New Zealand to get used to the conditions here. It is a fantastic preparation ahead of the World Cup. The bowlers will have to be smart to bowl in the right areas. If the batsmen get in, we will see some high scores.'
New Zealand (Playing XI): Martin Guptill, Jesse Ryder, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum(c), Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi(w), Nathan McCullum, Tim Southee, Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne
India (Playing XI): Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni(w/c), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma
An enthralling series is on the cards. Fasten your seatbelts and hop on the rollercoaster ride.
Match Preview :
India would look to gain some valuable experience and confidence when they clash with New Zealand in a five-match ODI series, beginning on Sunday, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys will begin the defence of their World Cup title on these very shores next year.
The reigning World Champions will also be looking to defend their number one ranking, in this format of the game, against the eighth-ranked hosts. Unlike their previous tour in December, this trip imparts greater significance to India. Against South Africa, the Indian team management decided to use the three-match series as a learning exercise for the ensuing Test series. It worked up to an extent against their formidable opponents with their young Test side losing the two-match series only on the last day of the tour at Durban.
While the importance of taking that learning forward in the Tests versus New Zealand cannot be neglected, at the same time, India need to up the ante in ODIs as the run-up to their title defence officially begins. India will travel to Australia in the latter part of the 2014-15 season, which will be a final dress-rehearsal, and as such this series against the Black Caps is an important marker in their preparation for the World Cup.
The 16-man squad that has arrived here is already a much settled unit, losing only to Pakistan at home and South Africa away in the calendar year 2013, winning six consecutive ODI contests in between. While this provides a good starting point, there are important questions that need to be answered. The first of them is related to the opening combination, with both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma not doing much in South Africa, ODIs and Tests combined.
Sharma perhaps has more time, given that he bats in the middle order in the longer format and particularly because on away tours, the role of openers to give a solid start becomes more important. Murali Vijay performed that bit to perfection in the Tests there, further highlighting Dhawan's plight, who scored only 88 runs in six innings (avg. 14.66) in Africa.
Even so, the toughest question pertains to the middle order, given that a misfiring Yuvraj Singh is no longer part of this ODI squad. The number four spot is proving to be a pain ever since this season started against Australia at home. Suresh Raina moved back to this spot in that series but the southpaw himself is struggling for consistency. Either he needs to draw experience of finishing the innings in these conditions, batting at number five or six, or he needs to learn how to drive the batting from number four, in preparation of the World Cup next year. Doing both is not an option for him or the team management.
He will need to watch out for Ambati Rayudu and Stuart Binny who will come into contention at some point in this series. Especially the latter, if Raina continues to bat at number five or six, since Binny too is a lower-order batsman. More importantly, he bowls military medium, which could be an additional usage in these windy and bouncy conditions.
The pace department looks settled for India. Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami will look to carry on from where they left off in South Africa, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar getting another look-in. Otherwise there is always Ishwar Pandey and Varun Aaron to contend with.
It looks like India will play five bowlers, though spin is where the real competition is. R Ashwin needs to win back his Test spot from Ravindra Jadeja and while both are expected to feature in the Indian ODI eleven, this could shape up to be a personal duel between them.
For New Zealand too, this series is a good launch-pad to firm up their plans for the future. They have a good base going already, with new players - a healthy mix of ballistic batsmen and good all-rounders - coming through in the preceding West Indies series.
The key for them will be to put India under pressure early on in the series, putting the shorter grounds and windy conditions to good use.
While skipper Brendon McCullum hinted that they might look to play four fast bowlers on Sunday, the Kiwis' bowling coach Shane Bone was thinking in the longer term. Whilst hosting the World Cup next year, New Zealand will get to play a quarterfinal and a semifinal at their home turf, should they make it that far ahead into the tournament.
'We might have to play India in the quarters, or the semis, next year. We too need to size them up and plan ahead,' Bond said, ahead of the opening clash of the tour on Sunday.