It has been more than two years yet the scars of that World Cup semi-final defeat in Manchester are still fresh in the Indian camp. Recently, in the World Test Championship final, the Blackcaps yet again had the better of Virat Kohli's boys. In fact, quite remarkably India's last victory over New Zealand in an ICC event came way back in the 2003 World Cup and if this Kiwi jinx doesn't get broken on Sunday night, the 'Men in Blue' might stare at an early exit from the ongoing ICC T20 World Cup in the UAE.
Ahead of this virtual knockout, the mood in the Indian team seemed relaxed when they trained at the ICC Academy on the eve of the match. Since that humiliating defeat against Pakistan last Sunday, it was only their second practice session.
For obvious reasons, the centre of focus was Hardik Pandya, who underwent an extended session of fitness drills under the watchful eyes of physio Nitin Patel and assistant strength and conditioning coach Soham Desai. It is now crystal clear that irrespective of the outside criticism, the Indian think-tank is banking on Pandya for the No. 6 spot. They even expect him to bowl a few overs if needed.
On Saturday, after going through his initial warm-ups, Pandya joined the rest of the team for a team bonding session. Later he did some catching and fielding drills before going for another round of strengthening exercises, most of which were primarily focused on his shoulder.
Considering the dew factor in Dubai, India are in desperate need of an additional bowling option apart from the five specialists. And under the circumstances, Pandya is India's best bet for the job. That is the reason why he bowled with full throttle for around 15 minutes when the players hit the nets. Though he joined there a bit late compared to his teammates whatever time he was there, the Baroda all-rounder seemed to be in a good rhythm.
Earlier, talking to the media, skipper Kohli cleared the air regarding Pandya's fitness and availability. "Hardik is fine, if you're talking about the blow on the shoulder, he's absolutely fine," he said.
Countering the dew factor
Winning the toss in crucial matches has been one of Kohli's biggest nemesis in recent years. And so far in the Dubai matches of this ICC T20 World Cup, the captains who have opted to chase have gone on to win the game on each occasion.
Hence, without thinking about the aspects which are not in anyone's control, the team management adapted to the curriculum of the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru, where coaches follow a tried and tested method of countering the wet ball.
It has been learnt that during the net session here in the UAE, some of the Indian bowlers, especially the spinners have been asked to practice with slippery balls. Gripping the wet ball is the most crucial task for a slow bowler. And it is all about mastering the art, much like the Afghan spinners have done as they can make the wet ball skid faster after pitching while mostly targeting the stumps or the pad of the batters.
Nevertheless, in the last few games in Dubai, there hasn't been much dew in the second half as confirmed by the captains. And since the game against New Zealand will be played on a used pitch, there might be a temptation to play R Ashwin as the third spinner in the XI alongside Varun Chakravarthy and Ravindra Jadeja. Though considering Hardik’s inability to bowl four overs as of now, Kohli is unlikely to drop one of his mainstream pacers.