Before this World Cup, New Zealand had played 11 ODIs in 2019 - all of them against Asian sides. Coincidentally, their first four games of the World Cup have also been scheduled against the Asian countries -- versus Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India, in that order. After romping past their first three opponents, the Kiwis are now up against the formidable Indian side.
Both sides go into this game with an unbeaten record in this Cup, with India having played one game less than the Kiwis. India has always been the biggest Asian test for the Kane Williamson-led side, which has maintained an excellent record against the other sub-continent nations.
Virat Kohli’s men may have huffed and puffed in a chase of a mediocre 227 versus South Africa, but against Australia there was hardly a moment when they seemed to be trailing in the game. However, they suffered a huge setback with Shikhar Dhawan out, thanks to a hairline fracture of the thumb, for the next three weeks at least.
In the game against the Aussies, Dhawan and Rohit Sharma had forged their 16th hundred-plus ODI stand while opening together, going past the celebrated opening pair of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes and now ranking fourth in the list of most successful first wicket partnerships.
Dhawan’s unavailability not only affects the dynamics of the team but can also influence Rohit Sharma. It is Dhawan’s measured aggression in the first 10 overs that allows Rohit to bide his time. Against Australia, India had 41 runs on the board after 10 overs. Of these, Rohit had made a mere 11, at a strike-rate of 44.
Rohit, on whom now falls the onus of being senior opener, does not have a good record against the Kiwis, averaging just 35.1 -- his second lowest against Test-playing nations.
KL Rahul will in all likelihood open with Rohit, and the two will need to settle down into a partnership in the real sense, learning each other’s rhythms and making sure to make the opening powerplay count.
Besides Dhawan’s absence, Kuldeep Yadav’s diminishing returns with the ball is the other missing piece in India’s puzzle. After a couple of spectacular years in ODI cricket, the chinaman bowler has faded away in 2019.
In India’s two games in this World Cup, Kuldeep has picked up a solitary wicket and did not even complete his full quota of overs against Australia, where he went at more than a run-a-ball.
Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav, who between them form the fifth bowler option, have been expensive, with combined figures of 21-0-129-0 in the two games so far – and this makes it all the more vital for Kuldeep to come good. His team will need him to be at his best against the Kiwis, whose top five batsmen average above 40 against spin since 2018, with Ross Taylor (83.5), Martin Guptill (65.6) and Kane Williamson (43.5) leading.
Ross Taylor in particular has been in sensational form, not only against the spinners but against the fast bowlers as well.
More bad news for Kuldeep: Taylor has never been dismissed by a chinaman bowler.
To revert to the point about India losing Dhawan, New Zealand’s pacers have been in stupendous form in the World Cup. Finding swing and seam in the overcast English conditions, the Kiwi pacers have taken 27 wickets in the tournament so far - the most by any side.
Trent Boult said the other day that the balls in use have been glossier than usual, and this has aided lateral movement. Ironically, Boult himself is yet to take a wicket with the new ball, but his superb opening spells have created the pressure the likes of Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson have been able to exploit. Consequently, New Zealand has bowled out the opposition in each of their first three games.
The only blemish in a rock-solid Kiwi line-up is their lower-middle order, numbers 5 to 8. Since 2018 until the start of the World Cup, New Zealand’s lower-middle order had a batting average of 31.9 runs per wicket, second only to England. In this tournament, it has gone down to 23.3, only better than Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Before the squad was announced, Virat Kohli had shown his faith in Vijay Shankar at number 4, and the Indians might go with him in that slot once Rahul moves up to open. The rest of the line-up is expected to remain unchanged.
Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli (c), Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah
New Zealand is a well settled unit; they retained the same lineup for their three winning outings, and will likely field the same XI again.
Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham (wk), James Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult