Even before the hangover of the Sri Lanka series is over, India are gearing up for the next. Just a month after playing them in New Zealand in three ODIs and as many T20Is, they will repeat it in the reverse fixture. Don’t ask why—this is how bilateral series and the Future Tours Programme work. But in a World Cup year, all these ODIs count for something for everyone, and hence without context.
New Zealand would jump into such opportunities. With the 50-over World Cup only 10 months away, they have landed here to check how their picks perform in these conditions. Such luxuries are rare for New Zealand, but given their undeniable rise in world cricket, the Black Caps have become one of the most sought-after teams. Although they enter the series sans their pillars such as Kane Williamson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Adam Milne, they won’t be pushovers. At the helm is Tom Latham, a wonderfully gifted player but massively under-rated in the format. With Ross Taylor not in the picture, in Latham, the Kiwis have a reliable accumulator at No 5. If he could manage the wrist-spin of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, the left-hander would love the conditions he encounters.
— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) January 16, 2023
But as if often the case, New Zealand is flying under the radar, and the attention is once again on India. As they arrived at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium for a practice session on Tuesday, there were more support staff than players. With back-to-back matches lined-up, India made it an optional training session and barring captain Rohit Sharma, the rest of the big names remained at the hotel.
— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) January 16, 2023
Holes to plug
But just like the canopies on the pavilion end (south stand), there are plenty of holes that they need to cover up. With KL Rahul not playing this series, Ishan Kishan is the designated wicketkeeper and will take his place. But having scored a double century in the last game he opened in Bangladesh, the left-hander will have to bat in the middle-order as India are not keen on separating Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill.
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— BCCI (@BCCI) January 17, 2023
For a side that has a fairly good idea of the players who will make the World Cup, India’s biggest challenge would be to find the right balance between bat and ball. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar not in the picture and Deepak Chahar injured, none of their first-choice pacers are handy with the bat. And in case they field Chahal in the eleven, their tail starts from No 8. This is precisely the reason that India decided to split Chahal and Kuldeep so that one of their finger spinners – Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar – can be included to lend depth in the batting. With six bowling options deemed necessary, India are in a position where they may have to compromise on batting depth. However, with the team adopting a more aggressive approach in the format, which was evident against Sri Lanka, adding depth in batting is a necessity too.
“I prefer not to compromise on anything,” skipper Sharma said in the pre-match media interaction. “You need to play your best eleven. On a given day, all the eleven players who take the field have to be in good form and without compromising on the strength of the XI members that are there. That is going to be challenging for us.. to get a No 8, No 9 who can bat,” he elaborated.
That is the reason, he says, they have included Shardul Thakur, as “his ability with the bat can give us the edge at No 8”. “But if you have seven good batters who can do the job for us – no matter what the situation is, then you can look at your playing combination as well. In India (at the World Cup), you are going to play all over the country – different pitches, different challenges. We have to access everything – whether we need to play three spinners or three pacers. We have spinners who are all-rounders who can bat. They can give us the depth we are looking for,” Rohit elaborated.
With the World Cup being held in October-November, there are concerns about the dew factor and how it could end up hurting the team that bats first. Speaking on his YouTube channel, R Ashwin floated the idea of matches starting at 11.30, so that the impact of dew is reduced. Rohit too agreed. “I mean, it (having an early start) is a good idea because it’s a World Cup, right? You don’t want to compromise too much on the toss factor and you want to take that (advantage) completely away. I like that idea of an early start, but I don’t know if it’s possible. The broadcasters will decide what time the game should start,” he said.
“But ideally you don’t want that sort of advantage in the game. You want to see good cricket being played without one (team) having the advantage of batting under lights with the dew. But those are the things that are not in your control,” Rohit added.