India are a world-class team in all three formats of the game, but it's in the T20Is that they have been the most inconsistent. They have played 19 T20Is since January 2019, winning 11 and losing seven of them, while one didn't offer any result. The T20 World Cup isn't far away and Virat Kohli and Co. will look to address all their issues before they take that flight to Australia in October for the T20 mega event.
Do we have enough power-hitters down the order? Is Shivam Dube ready to serve as Hardik Pandya's back-up? Can other fast bowlers, apart from Jasprit Bumrah, cement their spots? And what about KulCha? India will look to address all these queries when they come face to face against New Zealand in the first of five T20Is starting at Eden Park on Friday (January 24).
India have had an outstanding home season and will try to kickstart this multi-format tour on a winning note in Auckland. Following these five T20Is, Kohli's men will also play three ODIs and two Tests on this 40-day long tour. The Men in Blue will also look to bury the ghosts of that heart-breaking loss in the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup against the Black Caps. The last time India toured New Zealand in 2018, they won the ODI series 4-1 but lost the T20Is 1-2.
With two World Cups scheduled in the next two years, the focus has largely been on the shortest format of the game as India have played 12 T20Is in the last four months. While their series against South Africa ended in a draw, India did manage to beat Bangladesh, West Indies and Sri Lanka. However, in the process, they did lose a match each to Bangladesh and West Indies.
India will be without Shikhar Dhawan who was ruled out of both the T20I and ODI series, but that will make life slightly more easier for the team management. The left-handed opener looked in solid form in the first two ODIs against Australia before he injured his shoulder in the third ODI in Bangalore. The top-order looks sorted for India as Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Kohli and Shreyas Iyer will form a solid top four. Kohli and Rahul in particular have been in terrific form in this format of late.
The Indian captain has scored 522 runs in 12 innings at 74.57 since the start of 2019. No other batsman averages more than Kohli in this time frame (minimum 10 innings). The No. 3 batsman however is yet to play a T20I in New Zealand but averages over 50 in both ODIs and Tests in the country. However, it's Rahul who has been the talk of the town of late.
The Karnataka lad has emerged as India's go-to man because of his versatility in white-ball cricket. Rahul, who has scored 411 runs at 45.50 since January 2019, can bat at any position in the batting order and has now also replaced Rishabh Pant as wicketkeeper for the time being. Pant was hit on the helmet in the first ODI against Australia and that gave Rahul an opportunity to don the gloves.
India had the option of playing Pant in the decider but they stuck to Rahul and even Kohli has hinted that they might continue with the latter behind the stumps. “It definitely allows us to play an extra batsman which strengthens our batting massively. That is a very important factor as far as the team balance is concerned. You can’t chop and change immediately and create confusion within the group. So we are playing very well unchanged and we did the job again, two back to back wins,” said Kohli after the Bangalore ODI.
The battle for the No. 5 spot will be between Pant, Sanju Samson and Manish Pandey. The onus will also be on the hard-hitting all-rounder Shivam Dube who so far has been serving as Pandya's replacement. The short boundaries will help his playing style and he will also have to chip in with a few overs. There are still some clouds over Pandya's fitness and this series will serve as a perfect platform for Dube to further his case for the T20 World Cup. Meanwhile, the No. 7 spot will go either to Washington Sundar or Ravindra Jadeja depending on what the management wants from them.
In the bowling department, Bumrah, Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Shami were fantastic in the death overs against Australia and India will probably stick with the trio unless they want someone like Shardul Thakur to tonk the ball down the order.
Meanwhile, New Zealand recently suffered a heavy defeat in the Test series in Australia, losing it 3-0. They are a very strong team in their own backyard but it's not going to be easy for the Kane Williamson-led side who are struggling with injuries. Their two premier pacers Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson are injured and aren't available for the T20I series. Tim Southee will have to burden most of the responsibility in the pace department and he will have Scott Kuggeleijn, the returning Hamish Bennett and Blair Tickner for company.
"We had a big chunk of Test cricket and the guys that were in Australia are reasonably experienced guys … they've had tough tours before and they've bounced back and the reason why they've played for a long period of time is they've been able to get through those ups and downs. It's about making that adjustment. What's gone is gone and it was very disappointing, the guys would have learnt from it, and now we've got to look forward to the Indian series," said Southee.
In Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi, New Zealand have solid spinners who have done well against India in the past. Santner has taken nine wickets in seven games at an average of 17.77 and an economy of 6.95 against India, while Sodhi has claimed 11 scalps in seven matches at 16.18 and an economy of 7.73. No other bowler has taken more wickets than Sodhi against India in this format. Meanwhile, Santner too stands fifth on the list.
Just like India, New Zealand are also slightly more reliant on their top order when it comes to batting. Williamson has only played three T20Is in the last one year, while the others, including the likes of Ross Taylor, Colin de Grandhomme, Martin Guptill, Tim Seifert and Colin Munro are averaging in the 20s in this time period.
Both Guptill and Munro will have to fire if New Zealand want to put pressure on Bumrah and Co. The former has a superb record at this venue in this format. Guptill has scored over 500 runs at a strike rate of 171 at Eden Park, while Munro operates at a strike rate of over 207 at this ground.
Their strength lies in the number of all-rounders they have and it gives them proper balance. Daryl Mitchell and de Grandhomme are handy seam-bowling all-rounders, while Kuggeleijn and Santner can hit those lusty blows down the order.
India have historically not done well against New Zealand in the shortest format of the game. They have a win percentage of only 27.2 against them in T20Is, comfortably their lowest when compared to the top ten nations. However, both teams have their own problems and will look to sort most of them out in the next 10 days.
New Zealand - Kane Williamson (c), Hamish Bennett, Martin Guptill, Scott Kuggeleijn, Daryl Mitchell, Colin Munro, Ross Taylor, Blair Tickner, Mitchell Santner, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi, Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee.
India - Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Sanju Samson, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant, Shivam Dube, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Navdeep Saini, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur.