With non-stop cricket going on around the globe - dominated by various T20 leagues - every bilateral series comes with the question of significance attached to it. The upcoming India-New Zealand three-match T20I series, beginning on Friday (January 27) is no different, especially in an ODI World Cup year. However, it has some relevance attached to it.
Both sides are now stepping into a reconstruction phase regarding their T20 setup, and although the focus is on the 50-over format, the T20 World Cup is only next year.
For the third series in a row since the last World Cup in November 2022, India have kept Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli away from the T20I side. The head coach Rahul Dravid said he is not aware of any plans about split captaincy, the writing seems to be on the wall for the two veteran cricketers. New Zealand, meanwhile, are also attempting to move on from their celebrated group of cricketers that made them a force to reckon with in the 2010s, with none of Kane Williamson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Martin Guptill part of this tour and Mitchell Santner leading the T20 side.
The Kiwis would want to bounce back after suffering a clean sweep in the ODIs and improve their appalling record against India. Since 2018, they have lost 10 of their 14 T20Is versus the Men in Blue.
Things to look out for
> Shubman Gill has been in sparkling form in ODIs, scoring 1205 runs since July 2022, at an average of 86.1. Skipper Hardik Pandya has confirmed him as Ishan Kishan’s opening partner in the first T20I. Albeit, there are doubts over Gill’s spot in T20 cricket, primarily linked to his strike-rate. Since 2021, he has a T20 strike-rate of 118.8 in the powerplay. India were on a mission to bat risk-free in the build-up to the T20 World Cup last year. The semifinal defeat has only accentuated the need for it further.
Hence, there are question marks over Gill’s incumbency as India’s T20I opener in the absence of KL Rahul, especially with Prithvi Shaw, a more free-flowing hitter in the squad. While Pandya’s comment about Gill leading the pecking order sounds right, the question arises if India have that pecking order sorted indeed. The NZ T20Is can clear the picture.
> The Kiwis seem set to hand a debut to Benjamin Lister, a 27-year-old left-arm seamer from Auckland. Lister stands as New Zealand's best bet to replace Trent Boult, from whom the Blackcaps are keen to move on after the 33-year released himself from the national contract. The Kiwis have quite a few pace-bowling options but none of them are left-arm seam-up candidates. Lister has been fast-forwarded to the national setup after impressing many with his domestic cricket exploits. New Zealand would be eager to see him repeat his success at the international level.
Pitch and Conditions
Ranchi’s JSCA International Stadium Complex is still a fairly new T20 venue. It has hosted only three T20Is and 25 T20s overall since 2013. 16 of these 25 games have been won by the team bowling first as dew plays a big part and the numbers tell you the story.
Both sides can field more than two spin bowlers, including the part-time options. Hence, winning the toss and bowling first would be on the radar for both teams.
Overall, at an average run rate of 7.8 since 2018, Ranchi is a venue for both batters and bowlers. The average first innings score has been 155.
> Washington Sundar has bowled 49 out of his 105 T20I overs in the powerplay. Out of them, 33.2 overs have been against left-handers. However, given Devon Conway’s exceptional record against off-spinners (average 51, strike-rate 150), the Men in Blue should refrain from their traditional use of Sundar’s off-spinners.
> In T20Is since 2021, Hardik Pandya averages 25.1 at a strike-rate of 146.7 at back-of-a-length deliveries and 9.4 at a strike-rate of 127 at short-pitched balls. Lockie Ferguson is someone who can strangle Pandya by pulling the length back. In overall T20s, Ferguson has bowled only six deliveries to Pandya, conceding only 3 runs while producing one dismissal.
Pandya has confirmed that Gill and Kishan will be openers. Rahul Tripathi should continue at number three. The only other spot up for grabs is of the specialist wrist-spinner, where Kuldeep Yadav currently seems to be ahead of Yuzvendra Chahal based on his recent form.
Shubman Gill, Ishan Kishan (wk), Rahul Tripathi, Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya ( c ), Deepak Hooda, Washington Sundar, Shivam Mavi, Kuldeep Yadav, Umran Malik, Arshdeep Singh
The Blackcaps have a straightforward selection in the batting department. From their last T20I series, a 0-3 result against India only in November last year, Mark Chapman should replace Kane Williamson at three and Michael Bracewell is likely to take James Neesham’s spot at number six. Blair Tickner and Ben Lister should keep Jacob Duffy and Henry Shipley on the bench. Ish Sodhi is fit and available for selection which comes as a big relief.
Finn Allen, Devon Conway (wk), Mark Chapman, Daryl Mitchell, Glenn Phillips, Michael Bracewell, Mitchell Santner ( c ), Ish Sodhi, Ben Lister, Lockie Ferguson, Blair Ticker