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India, NZ seek to plug middle-order loopholes

Big picture

You will remember the last team to go down in the Champions Trophy earlier this year: India, shellacked by Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Amir in the final. But, do you remember that New Zealand were the first to be ousted from the tournament? They have a rejigged squad for the series against India, but the old troubles remain. The Brendon McCullum-shaped hole at the top of the order. The middle-order that is a revolving door. New Zealand have used as many as 11 different players between No. 5 and 7 since the 2015 World Cup. And the one with the best numbers – allrounder James Neesham (557 runs in 22 innings) isn’t even with the team now.

Instead, New Zealand have tasked Tom Latham with a dual role: hold the middle order together and keep wicket. Opening the batting in each of the five ODIs in India last year, Latham had accumulated 244 runs in five innings. In the first ODI on a seamer-friendly pitch in Dharamsala, he became the first New Zealander to carry his bat through an ODI innings. Glenn Phillips, Henry Nicholls – who did not even manage a single win for New Zealand A against India A in the lead-up to this series – and Colin de Grandhomme – who did not get a game in the Champions Trophy – are the other middle-order aspirants.

Since the Champions Trophy final, India have secured dominant series wins in the Caribbean, Sri Lanka, and at home against Australia. They have gone from ignoring wristspin to lapping it up with both Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal lending a fresh edge to the bowling attack. But the hosts have middle-order concerns of their own: they have used 11 different players at No. 4 since the 2015 World Cup.

Form guide

India: WLWWW (completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: LLLWW

In the spotlight

The last time New Zealand were in India, Hardik Pandya was just making his ODI debut. A year later, he has established himself as the team’s premier allrounder. His six-hitting prowess – he has smashed 28 of them in 2017, just one below the leader of the list – has eased India’s middle-order worries and set them up better for the final flourish. The batting brawn is complemented by the bowling smarts – he has added the fast offcutter and the knuckle ball to his repertoire.

Trent Boult was singled out by India’s vice-captain Rohit Sharma as a major threat, two days before the series opener. That the left-arm quick scooped 5 for 38 in the first warm-up match, and took 16 wickets in seven games against India last year adds more weight to Rohit’s comments.

Team news

Ajinkya Rahane struck at least a fifty in each of his four most recent ODIs, but with Shikhar Dhawan returning to India’s squad, he appears set to partner Rohit at the top. Dinesh Karthik might have to tussle with Manish Pandey for a middle-order spot.

India (probable) 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Kedar Jadhav, 5 MS Dhoni(wk), 6 Manish Pandey/Dinesh Karthik, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson confirmed that Colin Munro will open the batting with Martin Guptill. The visitors might also have to make a choice between Nicholls, Phillips, and George Worker.

New Zealand (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Colin Munro, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Tom Latham (wk), 6 Henry Nicholls/Glenn Phillips, 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Ish Sodhi, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Tim Southee

Pitch and conditions

The pitch in Mumbai wore a brownish look on Saturday, amid fairly dry conditions. The Wankhede surface is noted for its batting-friendly nature – the last ODI here saw South Africa amass 438, and the same trend could follow. Mumbai has received some erratic rains in the last few weeks, which means Sunday is likely to be hot and humid.

Stats and trivia

  • Rohit needs 98 runs to become the second batsman after Virat Kohli to reach 1000 ODI runs in 2017.

  • Kohli is set to feature in his 200th ODI on Sunday. He will be the 13th Indian to the landmark.

  • South Africa and India are both on 120 points with Faf du Plessis’ men ahead on decimal points. If South Africa beat Bangladesh 3-0, India will have to beat New Zealand 3-0 to regain, and retain, the No. 1 ranking.

  • Munro has never opened in 57 matches across formats in international cricket so far.

Quotes

“We have got a relatively new middle order – some guys with injuries, some guys with some good opportunities that certainly they all deserve, and it’s exciting. These guys were here on the A tour and experienced these conditions for a while coming into the series, which is always good.”
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson

“We always had in mind to bring wristspinners into play. We honestly didn’t think of playing two together but they (Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal) are so good together that it is very tempting to play them every game.”
India captain Virat Kohli

Updated: October 21, 2017 — 4:33 pm
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