Favourite India opens campaign against big-hitting Kiwis

While India will be hoping to register a win against New Zealand for the first time in five matches, the Kane Williamson-led side has girded up its loins to play a brand of cricket that Brendon McCullum espoused to keep the turnstiles busy and the opponents at bay.

Team director Ravi Shastri feels there is a good combination of youth and experience in the team and skipper Dhoni would expect all departments to function like a well-oiled machine to draw first blood against New Zealand.   -  PTI

The time is upon a charged-up band of Indian cricketers to shine under the bright lights and look for another World Cup glory in the presence of its legion of fans. The Orange City may be lacking the pre-match hype and hoopla that surrounds the India-Pakistan skirmish set to take place at Eden Gardens in four days, but neither the host nor New Zealand can afford to discount the intensity factor because making a winning start and keeping the momentum is crucial.

While India will be hoping to register a win against New Zealand for the first time in five matches, the Kane Williamson-led side has girded up its loins to play a brand of cricket that Brendon McCullum espoused to keep the turnstiles busy and the opponents at bay.

Read: >India Team Preview

T20, India's forte?

As far as the form guide goes, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team has been in the thick of action and it has given sufficient hints that it has more or less come to grips with the shortest version of the game that has fortunately not turned out to be anybody’s bastion. Apart from the embarrassing defeat caused by a rookie Sri Lankan fast bowler Kasun Rajitha in Pune last month, the former champion side has paid attention to the nitty-gritty, registered impressive wins and won the Asia Cup Twenty20 in Bangladesh. In short, the revamped side has given itself a thorough workout, starting from the three-match series in Australia that Dhoni’s team won in a handsome manner.

>Kohli: Keen to take the momentum into the World Cup





Most ranked teams are tagging India as the favourite and Dhoni’s team, willy-nilly, has to accept the top billing. Soon after checking into the hotel overlooking the Arabian Sea in South Mumbai, a sleepy-eyed South African captain Faf du Plessis put India ahead of the rest in the race for the title even as team-mate Jean-Paul Duminy said the Proteas have done enough in the last 18 months to be quietly confident of giving itself a chance to break the title jinx of an ICC event. Perhaps the Indian captain also feels that his team has seized all opportunities that has come its way since the turn of the new year, and that it is possibly moving in the top gear.

Read: >New Zealand team preview

Youth and experience

After mulling over the potential 15 for the World Cup campaign, the team management and the national selection committee concurred on a few aspects of the game in order to bring freshness to the team. More significantly they brought the unpredictability factor into the scheme of things, and chose Gujarat fast bowler >Jasprit Bumrah and utility man, Baroda’s Hardik Pandya, for the three-match series in Australia.

>Williamson: McCullum changed the style of the game

They also made the bold move to recall left-arm seamer >Ashish Nehra, who has shown a penchant for the T20 format. Nehra and Bumrah have worked wonders, accounting for 28 wickets between them. Their success has also resulted in off-spinner Ravichandran Ashiwn coming into his own. He has taken 17 wickets at 12.35 apiece in the series against Australia and Pandya 10 wickets at 21.70.

Quite clearly the 77 wickets (in the last 11 matches) India has captured has made Dhoni remain upbeat about his bowling department, saying it’s a relief to know which bowler will bowl at the death, that Bumrah has a bit of pace and does not have a normal action and that his execution of yorkers is second to none. After the two warm-up games against the West Indies and South Africa, the Indian captain has first-hand knowledge that a healthy >Mohammad Shami (2/30 against the West Indies, 2/37 against South Africa) can be relied upon to bring value. Nehra (204 balls/259 runs), Bumrah (237/243), Ashwin (222/210), >Ravindra Jadeja (210/227) and Pandya (183/217) have borne the brunt of the attack in the last two-and-a-half months. They will be up against a big clutch of New Zealand batsmen who like to direct the ball to all parts of the field when it comes off the pitch at a good pace.

Well-oiled machine

India’s batting has demonstrated the skills to deal with a variety of opposition and, as team director Ravi Shastri said recently, there is a good balance between youth and experience. India’s fielding is considered top class and Dhoni would expect all departments to function like a well-oiled machine to draw first blood against New Zealand. It has not rained here since Saturday night.

The teams:

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Captain, wk), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandras Ashwin, Ashish Nehra, Jasprit Bumrah, Ajinya Rahane, Harbhajan Singh, Pawan Negi, Mohammad Shami.

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (Captain), Martin Guptill, Corey Anderson, Colin Munro, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi (wk), Mitchell Santner, Nathan McCullum, Mitchell McClenaghan, Trent Boult, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Adam Milne.