Mumbai: Hardly challenged in a dominating run this season, India will once again start overwhelming favourites when they take on an inconsistent-but-gritty New Zealand in a three-match ODI series, starting here tomorrow.
The Indians are on a high after comprehensively thrashing world champions Australia earlier this month. And the Black Caps will have to come up with really a special effort to make a mark against the rampaging hosts. Banking on settled batting and bowling combinations with most of the columns ticked, the hosts appear to be too well- groomed a unit for the comfort of the visitors.
Although India suffered a resounding loss to South Africa on a belter of a track at this very venue three seasons ago, they went on to win three series on the trot in their backyard and are now a force to reckon with in the upcoming series. In fact, since surrendering to Australia back in 2009-10, India have lost only to Pakistan (2012) and South Africa in 16 bilateral rubbers, a clear indication of how dominant they have been in familiar conditions.
Considering that the 4-1 result over Australia was achieved without skipper Virat Kohli being in top form and despite the absence of prolific opener Shikhar Dhawan, it was a huge achievement.
Vice-captain Rohit Sharma scored 296 runs, including a century and two fifties at an average just below 60. The ever-dependable Ajinkya Rahane hit 244 runs that included four half-centuries, while all-rounder Hardik Pandya amassed 222 runs. The ever-reliable Mahendra Singh Dhoni had a subdued time with the bat against Australia.
If they continue to fire with the same intensity, it would be difficult for New Zealand to contain the home team on a Wankhede track, which is expected to provide the ideal pace and bounce for the batsmen to go for the shots. With a new-look spin attack with Chinaman Kuldeep Singh and orthodox leggie Yuzvendra Chahal, along with the left-arm orthodox Axar Patel as the back-up, India's slow bowling too sports a supremely challenging look.
Among the pacers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are expected to trouble the Kiwis in the opening as well as at death overs. However, New Zealanders will bank on their senior-most batsman and former captain Ross Taylor, who scored a cracking century at the Brabourne Stadium against the Indian Board President's XI in their second practice game.
The form of Taylor, opener Martin Guptill and captain Kane Williamson are going to be crucial in the Kiwis trying to match the Indian batting might. Tom Latham, who also warmed up with a ton in the second practice game along with Taylor, offers some big-hitting option in the middle. But overall, the visitors' batting pales in comparison to the home team's, especially in sub- continental conditions.
The experienced pace duo of Trent Boult and Tim Southee will have to take up the responsibility of getting quick wickets at the top. The spinners in left-arm orthodox Mitchell Santner and leggie Ish Sodhi may have a tough time against the Indian batsmen in the middle overs.
This will be the second series for India with the new ODI playing conditions after the one against Australia.
Squads: India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shardul Thakur.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Glenn Phillips, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, George Worker and Ish Sodhi. Match commences at 1:30 pm IST.