India, NZ to resume joust on clean slate as ODIs beckon

A battered and bruised New Zealand, fresh from a 3-0 hammering the Tests, will hope for respite in the cool environs of Dharamsala where the One-Day International series against India commences on Sunday.

M.S. Dhoni returns to international cricket after four months.   -  PTI

As a venue, Dharamsala ranks high for cricket teams visiting India. Both on and off the field, the place provides conditions far more amenable to visitors than most of the grounds in the country.

Come Sunday, a battered and bruised New Zealand would hope for something similar when it takes on a confident India, playing its 900th One-Day International (ODI), in the first of the five matches.

>Read: Dhoni welcomes decision to rest bowlers in ODIs

A 3-0 whitewash in the Tests, two of them coming inside four days, is not exactly the kind of form the Kiwis would hope to carry into the ODIs. The extra day off, however, provided them much-needed rest. Reinforcements in the form of Tim Southee in bowling and Corey Anderson in batting would be as welcome as the absence of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja from the Indian line-up. The former was chiefly responsible for India’s domination in the longer format and together, the duo accounted for 41 of the 60 Kiwi wickets to fall.

Among the men New Zealand would look up to for restoring pride and confidence would be Martin Guptill - among the most consistent opening batsmen in the world today in the shorter formats with an average of 43 - and the experienced Ross Taylor.

Captain Kane Williamson disappointed in the Tests and would hope to get back his mojo in the company of the likes of hard-hitting Anderson, Luke Ronchi and Jimmy Neesham in New Zealand’s first ODI series since the retirement of the talismanic Brendon McCullum.

Modest ODI run

Even as the Indians have been unbeaten in Test series for the past one year, their ODI successes have been few and far between, coming only against Zimbabwe (twice) since 2015. This, therefore, would be the best time for M.S. Dhoni’s men to set the record right even though India has only a 50-50 record in the two ODIs it has played here. And among the key figures to help do so would be Ajinkya Rahane, the quietly efficient and consistent run machine in the past season.

Interestingly, Rahane is likely to be the makeshift opener for India given that the new selection committee, in its first assignment, has not bothered to pick a specialist opener for the first three matches. Rahane may be accompanied by Kedar Jadhav or Manish Pandey, if either of them make it to the XI, or Rohit Sharma. The uncertainity in itself is telling. Rahane is unfazed about the batting order but admitted before the team’s first practice session that he was clueless about his position.

Along with Virat Kohli, Rahane and Sharma are expected to score the bulk of the runs what with a lightweight middle order, an absent Suresh Raina (down with fever) and a Dhoni who resembles a shadow of the inimitable finisher that he was.

The biggest concern for the host would be its bowling that, in the absence of Ashwin, suddenly looks inexperienced and unsure. Leg-spinner Amit Mishra would reprise Ashwin’s role as the lead tweaker but the likes of Umesh Yadav, Dhawal Kulkarni, Axar Patel, Jayant Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah do not inspire the same confidence. Suddenly, the Indian side does not appear as invincible.

The New Zealand bowling, on the other hand, looks more compact. Trent Boult was the saving grace in the Tests and with the return of Southee and the presence of Matt Henry, adds experience. Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi stood out during the World T20 and if they could replicate that form, it would be quite a handful for the Indians in conditions that generally assist seam bowling, more so under lights.

The last time New Zealand beat India in India in a one-dayer was way back in 2003. Williamson and Co. would be desperate to end the drought.

The teams (from):

India: M.S. Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Manish Pandey, Jayant Yadav, Axar Patel, Jasprit Bumrah, Kedar Jadhav, Mandeep Singh, Amit Mishra, Dhawal Kulkarni, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya.

New Zealand: Kane Williamson, Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Anton Devcich, Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Matt Henry, James Neesham, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Tim Southee.

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