A series showdown at Green Park

Keeping in mind the narrative of the series so far, the match assumes more importance than just another ODI. It could be the occasion for New Zealand’s first ODI series victory in India; and with the host’s hot form in all formats, it could be one of the biggest surprises of the year for the onlooker.

India's Kuldeep Yadav in a training session on the eve of India's third ODI against New Zealand at Green Park in Kanpur on Saturday.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

The venue is Green Park, but judging by the heavy security presence around the stadium, the ubiquitous colour seems to be khaki.

Yet, it is quite appropriate in suggesting an important event in this city is around the corner, as are the hoardings with the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association’s greetings for the teams ahead of the third and final One-day International between India and New Zealand.

Keeping in mind the narrative of the series so far, the match assumes more importance than just another ODI. It could be the occasion for New Zealand’s first ODI series victory in India; and with the host’s hot form in all formats, it could be one of the biggest surprises of the year for the onlooker.

However, a few things have to fall in place for this to happen. Its batsmen have to stop themselves from crumbling against the craft of India’s seamers and spinners. Local Kuldeep Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, both of whom are familiar with the pitch and overall conditions here, can assume prominent roles in their respective departments, and it seems their potency can be effectively nullified only in case of the dew in the night.

Second, the Kiwi bowlers have to aim for the kind of Indian batting collapse their own batsmen suffered in Pune. Given the expertise of the host in all departments and its mastery in its own den, this eventuality seems unlikely.

Read: Kohli, Rohit skip optional practice ahead of decider

Moreover, having been caught off-guard in the series opener, the team will be wary of another potential slip-up. In the regular run of successes in the lead-up to this series, the comprehensive defeat in Mumbai was such a jolt that the team has now awoken to a kind of challenge it hasn’t faced in a while, India seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar pointed out.

“We have not been challenged like this in a while and it is a short series. There was pressure in the last game that we could lose the series. But the way we came back shows the character of the team. Tomorrow’s match is also about handling pressure. We will try to play like we played the last game,” he told reporters on Saturday.

In contrast to that last game, however, the action will be in the north of India, which, with its cooler and breezier evenings could aid Bhuvneshwar’s swing bowling. That makes the toss factor even less of a threat for the host, as New Zealand’s top order may be vulnerable when batting second, potentially making the dew redundant.

If there is any weakness in the Indian side that can be exploited, it seems to be its middle-order. In the first ODI, none of the batsmen in the line-up provided lasting support to Virat Kohli on the other end. Even though this was rectified in the following game, it was under little pressure, as it chased only a small target of 231.

The Indian team has shown it can suffer inconceivable blips, as was demonstrated well in the Champions Trophy with its losses to Sri Lanka and Pakistan. And one was in the final, an occasion that would have prompted the team to cover all fronts.

Therefore, an upset on Sunday cannot be ruled out. Only last year, New Zealand participated in a momentous occasion for Indian cricket at this venue – India’s Test No. 500. This time, it can carve out its own moment of pride here.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar has admitted to rediscovering his swing after losing it in search of more pace. Crediting bowling coach Bharat Arun for this, he said, “He is somebody who manages bowlers really well. At this level, you don’t want to get too much into the technique. He sometimes pinpoints certain things which can really improve your bowling.

 

"For example, I increased my pace but I lost my swing. I did not know how to go about it. So he shared some fine points that helped me get my swing back. His role in the team is invaluable.”

The bowler looked forward to challenges against a familiar opponent. “It is a short series but mental approach is the same as any other series. But as I said, we have not been challenged in a while at home, so everyone is looking forward to the challenge.

"Last series I played against New Zealand the planning was easy, it is the same for them also. Knowing them well and vice versa makes planning tougher. So it is a positive as well as a negative.”