New Zealand capable of better show against India in five-match ODI series

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New Zealand capable of better show against India in five-match ODI series

Posted on : Friday 14th of October 2016

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Setbacks can make life seem longer than it actually is, as much as victories often resemble an ineffable blur. So New Zealand, after exactly a month of futile labour and debilitating torment, could feel they have been criss-crossing the country for ages. At least some of them might be counting the number of days to board their flight back home. In the final few days of the Test series, the visitors conveyed an impression they are expended, both mentally and physically.

Skipper Kane Williamson, in the press conference after the galling defeat in Indore, conceded the “scarring” his team nursed after the 0-3 whitewash. With the core of the sides for both formats more or less intact, the highly infectious “scared” mentality can be detrimental to New Zealand’s prospects in the five-match ODI series.

The faster those Test wounds get healed, the better New Zealand’s chances will be in the format of the game they have thrived in the past. The shorter format, Williamson feels, best suits their brand of cricket. The Black Caps did square a Test series in England but having lost in Australia, South Africa, and now India, they still remain a ‘work in progress’ in the traditional format.

That is not the case in limited-overs cricket. Their T20 and ODI exploits helped them forge the image of audacious entertainers who the neutrals love to support. Their performances in the ODI and T20 World Cups, where they reached the final and semifinal respectively in the last two editions, were by no means a fluke.

Ironically, the men responsible for those Cup highs are considered a touch incongruous in the longest version. The dichotomy is best exemplified by Martin Gutpill. A Test average of 29.38 and just one hundred against a top-eight Test nation, chronicles a deeply frustrating career. But come to think of him in the perspective of T20s and ODIs, he is among the most feared opening batsmen, whose name would be discussed alongside those of Rohit Sharma and David Warner when picking a World XI. An average of 43 speaks of his consistency. Since the turn of last year, he has scored 1,891 runs at 55.61 in 39 matches.

To a large extent, that has been the story of Ross Taylor as well. Though he has a creditable average of 46.24 in Tests, the numbers go for a freefall when you detach his feats against lesser Tests teams. In ODIs, though, it’s more uniform. He averages more than 43 against India, England, West Indies and Pakistan (66.63 against Pakistan in 18 games) and 36 against Australia.

So, deliciously ironic as it could get, the most scrutinised players in the Test set-up could be New Zealand’s pillars in the ODIs. Add to them the batting utility of Williamson — a grossly underestimated limited-over batsman, who aggregates 47 with a strike rate of 84 — Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi and Jimmy Neesham. Suddenly, you feel New Zealand are not only capable of stretching India, but could fancy themselves to win the series.

Even their bowlers look more adept in limited overs. Trent Boult was their saving grace in the Tests, and arguably the most deceptive fast bowler among both sides. Matt Henry could rattle teams with his serious pace, and the return of Tim Southee instills them with experience. If Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi could replicate their World T20 form, their bowling could be as versatile as it could get in the subcontinent.

Understrength India

Williamson will be mighty relieved to not see the names of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, their chief tormentors in the Tests, in the Indian ODI squad. In fact, India have retained just four players — the top three plus Umesh Yadav — from the Test side, which is quite surprising, though not unexpected. India generally field full-strength sides against top oppositions, but on this occasion want to preserve the bowling nucleus of the Test team for the long season at home.

Interestingly, it has become fashionable for sides to conserve their best cross-format players for the longest version. Australia went with a brigade of greenhorns to South Africa (and were duly hammered). So did England in Bangladesh, though they just about scraped through to win the rather acrimonious limited-over series.

As was shown by the South Africans, even a near full-strength India can be vulnerable at home, especially their bowlers.

Barring Ashwin, who played just half a match, the rest were brutally chastened. This bowling firm looks even less experienced, what with the likes of Umesh Yadav, Dhawal Kulkarni, Axar Patel, Jayant Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Amit Mishra to pick from. Barring leg-spinner Mishra and death bowling specialist Bumrah, one wonders how many of them could realistically produce a match-winning effort, or keep a tight leash on the Kiwis.

But with Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit and Virat Kohli, India would imagine they can mount a mountain of runs or chase down any target. But flit through the top three, and India can be asphyxiated. There is a fragile middle order, more so with skipper MS Dhoni not the inimitable finisher he once was, and Suresh Raina being ruled out of the first match with viral fever. A close inspection of the India squad could soothe the scars of Williamson and his men a little.

Life after Baz

This happens to be New Zealand’s first ODI series after the retirement of Brendon McCullum, whose rakish approach was symbolic of the team’s resurgence in the last three years. This would present them with some dilemma at the top. The Black Caps would hope Guptill can step into the shoes of the enforcer, and there’s no shortage of ammo, with the likes of Ronchi, Anderson and Taylor down the order.

The last time they beat India in an ODI in India was as far back as 2003, in Cuttack. Overall, they have won only five of the 27 matches here. Inversely, India have won only 10 of the 34 matches in New Zealand. Neutral venues have witnessed the most intense battles (both with 15 wins apiece). But this could be the Kiwis’ shot at claiming that elusive series win in India. They could not have found a more ideal venue to begin their image-busting journey than the quaint hill station of Dharamsala, which is far-removed – culturally, geographically and climatically – from all the cities they have stayed thus far on this tour. It’s also probably the closest they could get to feel like home, with temperatures in the sub-20 degrees and gusts of mild breeze wafting through the hills in the evening. 

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