The games are coming in thick and fast but the real challenge – the ODI World Cup – is still a long way away for the Men in Blue. After putting Sri Lanka to bed relatively early, India face a stern test in the form of New Zealand, who incidentally were the last team to beat them in this format.
Even though it was a 1-0 win for the BlackCaps, they looked far more comfortable than the visitors India back in November. But no Kane Williamson and Tim Southee, will this New Zealand unit pose a similar threat, and if they do, are India well-equipped to handle the heat?
Oh wait, there is another name amongst the mix for India – Shardul Thakur. After India apparently moving on from him, the all-rounder is back in the squad ahead of the promising Arshdeep Singh. There are a lot of sub-plots but what Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium has to offer is worth the wait.
Things to watch out for
How do India fit in Ishan Kishan?
Nine innings, that’s how much Ishan Kishan has played for India in the ODI format and even in that, he has donned multiple hats. He’s opened the innings, batted at No.3 and also at No.4, which has shown that he is quite adept but where will he feature in this playing XI? Without KL Rahul, India have a dilemma that needs some answering, where does Kishan feature?
There is no room for him at the top of the order, given how Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma have formed a destructible pair at the top. At No.3, there is an in-form Virat Kohli, who has scored three ODI centuries in his last four ODIs. Shreyas Iyer is the incumbent for No.4 but will his injury then move Kishan up the order?
India could end up playing Kishan at No.4 but they should play him at No.5. In List-A, the southpaw has played 22 matches at No.5 and 6, showing his versatility. At No.5, Kishan has had relative success, with an average of 54.5, and a strike-rate of 92.8. His game-style too is something that would perfect for quite a tricky batting position.
Will Kuldeep finally snap his bad run against Latham?
Kuldeep Yadav is the man in form. He’s quite unstoppable at the moment, ever since that wonder season with the Delhi Capitals in the 2022 edition of the IPL. Across formats, the left-arm wrist-spinner has been a vital cog in the Indian setup and the lackluster form of Yuzvendra Chahal is only enabling him more. So, the big question is, will he be the one who ends Tom Latham’s incredible run against India?
Latham has played 20 ODIs against India, with a staggering average of 65.07, including two centuries and five half-centuries. Only once in the last four ODI innings has the left-hander been dismissed for a single-digit score against the Men in Blue, where he was dismissed by Ravindra Jadeja. Against Kuldeep, the left-hander averages 45, with a strike-rate of 118.4 in ODIs.
But this Kuldeep is a different version, and this contest will definitely be quite a decisive factor in determining the series.
Pitch and conditions
After loitering up north against Sri Lanka, the caravan has now started down south, with the first ODI in Hyderabad at the picturesque Rajiv Gandhi Stadium. What to look forward to? Well first, an ODI. The last ODI at the venue was way back in 2019, between India and Australia.
Only six ODIs have been played at the venue, with the average first-innings score being 278. But for teams to defend a total here, they will need at least a total in excess of 300. Unlike other venues, pacers have a significant advantage at the venue, with 51 wickets against the 27 wickets taken by the spinners.
Middle-order batters have found success here, with an average of 44.1 while the top-order batters average only 39.9 in Hyderabad.
- Tom Latham is the always the man who hurts India across the two formats. While India have had failed plans against him in the past, there is one aspect of his game that the Men in Blue could exploit: his weakness against spin in the good-length area. The same good-length area that Kuldeep has an expertise. In fact, the left-arm wrist-spinner has bowled 417 overs in that good length area (4-6 m), with 92 of his 122 wickets coming there. It is that area where he has to target if he intends to get an one-up over Latham.
- Good length doesn’t stop there, Indian skipper Rohit Sharma too has a certain weakness in that spot with six of his eight dismissals since 2022 coming in that particular spot. In New Zealand’s 2-1 success in Pakistan, it was Tim Southee who exploited that length, with four wickets. In his absence, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Jacob Duffy, Lockie Ferguson, Henry Shipley and Blair Tickner. Can they dismiss the Indian skipper early?
India are without Shreyas Iyer, that’s a body blow. But then his injury presents a bigger problem, who replaces him? Is it as straightforward as Ishan and Suryakumar playing at 4 and 5?
India: Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Ishan Kishan (wk), Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav, Umran Malik, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami
New Zealand are without Williamson and Southee but there is a strong chance that Chapman could be slotted ahead of Nicholls in this setup. One of Doug Bracewell or Blair Tickner could feature in the setup in Hyderabad
New Zealand XI: Finn Allen, Devon Conway, Mark Chapman, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Latham (wk) (c), Glenn Phillips, Michael Bracewell, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Doug Bracewell/Blair Tickner, Lockie Ferguson