Can the Kiwis halt India’s charge?

The Indian team has won its last six bilateral One-Day International series and Virat Kohli’s cavaliers will be keen to maintain their clean slate in the three-match series against New Zealand.

India will look to continue to flex its muscles against New Zealand.   -  AP

Had it not been for the simmering political ties between India and Pakistan and its fallout on the cricket calendar, Kane Williamson's Kiwi crusaders wouldn't have boarded a flight to India for their second limited-overs series in 12 months.

According to the international calendar, India was supposed to host its arch-rival and neighbour for a full series in November-December. But such is the business of sport that once the series was shelved, to live up to the commitment to the host broadcaster, the BCCI invited New Zealand for a limited-overs series and Sri Lanka for a Test series.

READ:  Williamson - ‘Guptill and Munro will open’

No wonder then that in an age when bilateral cricket is struggling for context, yet another virtually meaningless series will be thrust on the fans. However, with the numero uno status that Indian cricket still enjoys despite the emergence of a few other sporting disciplines as business properties, there's no dearth of context ahead of the series-opening ODI between India and New Zealand, to be played at the Wankhede Stadium on Sunday.

On a high

India and New Zealand have played each other in 98 ODIs so far, including 32 on the Indian oil. However, the teams square off against each other at the Wankhede Stadium for the first time in the 50-over format. The Indian team has won its last six bilateral ODI series and Virat Kohli’s cavaliers will be keen to maintain their clean slate in the three-match series.

Read: Kohli refuses to 'confuse' Rahane with middle-order spot

The last time Wankhede hosted an ODI, as much as it was made a memorable evening by AB de Villiers’ heroics with the bat, it was also an occasion to remember for an unsavoury incident involving Ravi Shastri. Shastri, the then director of the Indian team, rebuked pitch curator Sudhir Naik, the former Test opener, for handing over a flat deck.

Since then, Naik has passed on the official curator's baton to Ramesh Mhamunkar, preferring to only oversee the preparations. As Shastri returns to his alma mater as India head coach, both and Naik and himself would be hoping for a pitch that would behave contradictorily to its recent reputation of being a batsmen's paradise.

Laboratory for experiments

An otherwise meaningless series offers yet another opportunity for both India and New Zealand to try out different combinations in the build-up towards the 2019 World Cup. The Kiwis have decided to add zing to its top order by deciding to promote hard-hitter Colin Munro to open the batting with Martin Guptill. As a result, specialist opener Tom Latham will move down the order, adding depth to a largely inexperienced batting order.

India, on the other hand, continues to deal with problem of plenty. Shikhar Dhawan's availability after missing the ODI leg against Australia owing to a medical emergency in the family will mean Ajinkya Rahane will have to serve drinks despite scoring four fifties in his last four ODIs. It would be surprising if Kohli fields its highly successful spin triumvirate of Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel considering short boundaries and the likely impact of dew in the latter half of the game.

The No. 4 conundrum continues to haunt India. To solve the puzzle, Dinesh Karthik may have earned yet another recall but it would be interesting to see if the Tamil Nadu batsman actually gets a place in the team.

Meaningless affair, still? Your call.

                                                 The squads

India: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma (vice-capt), 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, Shardul Thakur.

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Glenn Phillips, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, George Worker.

                                                  The fixtures

ODIs: Oct 22 (Mumbai), Oct 25 (Pune), Oct 29 (Kanpur).
T20Is: Nov 1 (Delhi), Nov 4 (Rajkot), Nov 7 (Thiruvananthapuram).

                                                    The stats
Number of ODIs India and New Zealand have played against each other. India leads 49-43, with five no-results and one tied match.

Number of ODIs Virat Kohli has featured in. In Kanpur, he is set to become the 14th India cricketer to feature in 200 ODIs.

Number of ODI wickets Trent Boult has so far. He requires 10 more wickets to join the elite 100-wicket club for Kiwis.

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