Just one day after suffering yet another defeat in the final of an ICC white-ball global event, the New Zealand cricket team had arrived in Jaipur to commence their tour of India starting with the T20I series. The international calendar certainly is taxing for the modern-day cricketer, but this could be described as an overkill.
The Black Caps might mentally still be in Dubai and ruing the passages of play where they allowed their Trans-Tasman rivals to gain control and eventually coast to an eight-wicket win for their maiden T20 World Cup victory. They will however, have little choice but to snap out of it come Wednesday when they take on an Indian side beginning a new era under a new leader and a new head coach in Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid respectively.
The Indians too will be entering the series with their morale affected after a sub-par T20 World Cup campaign in which they failed to reach the semis in an ICC event for the first time in nine years, losing to Pakistan and New Zealand at the start of the tournament, eventually finishing third in Group 2 with three wins from five games. The Kohli-Shastri era didn’t quite get the victorious farewell that it may have deserved given its rich legacy, but in the coming series, India have the opportunity to put that disappointment behind and start fresh, hopefully on a winning note.
That the series is taking place barely a couple of days after the conclusion of ICC’s flagship T20 event, which will have left players from both squads both physically and mentally drained, does come with its caveats; one can expect a few pull outs, especially among the senior players. And earlier on Tuesday, it was New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson’s turn to announce his exit from the three-game series, with Tim Southee taking over the leadership in the three-white ball games.
The absence of an individual who kept New Zealand’s hopes alive with a whirlwind 85 in the final could certainly work to the Men in Blue’s advantage. If India are to get the early breakthroughs, the Black Caps certainly will miss Williamson’s calming presence at the crease and his ability to switch gears at will as per the situation.
Before Williamson, the Black Caps lost a vital cog in the middle order in Devon Conway, who had injured his right hand in frustration after getting dismissed for 46 against England in the semi-final. Tim Seifert was brought in as Conway’s replacement in the final, and is likely to continue in that role in the forthcoming series.
The rest of the Black Caps XI, however is expected to comprise a majority of the players who formed New Zealand’s core during the World Cup, including the opening pair of Martin Guptill and Daryl Mitchell along with the new-ball duo of Southee and Trent Boult.
As for the Indians, they will be without the services of several key senior players including Virat Kohli, who has opted to skip the entire T20I series along with the Kanpur Test, as well as new ball pair Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja.
Instead, the focus will be on some of the younger members who earned their callups on the back of brilliant outings in the IPL earlier this year. The likes of Harshal Patel, Venkatesh Iyer and Ruturaj Gaikwad were outstanding for their respective franchises in IPL 2021 and though their consistency didn’t find them a place in the World Cup squad, the selection committee chose to reward them in the series after, one that marks the beginning of India’s road to Australia 2022.
Jadeja’s exclusion should make Yuzvendra Chahal, looking to make a bold statement with the ball after being snubbed for the World Cup, the first-choice pick for the second spinner in the XI after Ravichandran Ashwin. And after an indifferent outing in the UAE, Bhuvneshwar Kumar will have slipped down the pecking order, meaning Deepak Chahar should be Rohit’s preferred choice for the powerplay seamer, at least in the Jaipur fixture.
— BCCI (@BCCI) November 16, 2021
The spotlight in the Indian batting order, meanwhile, will continue to be on Rohit and Rahul at the top of the order. Their impact on the team’s fortunes can be gauged from their contributions in the recent World Cup; both were dismissed cheaply in the 10-wicket loss to Pakistan, failed to get going in the subsequent loss to New Zealand, but bounced back thereafter and looked unstoppable in the victories over Afghanistan, Scotland and Namibia.
The formidable opening pair, however, will face an equally formidable pace duo of Southee and Boult in the powerplay overs, both of whom were in top form (except Southee in the final). That should be the battle to watch out for, especially the way Rohit and Rahul handle the difficult angle and movement created by left-arm seamer Boult.
The focus will also be on Rohit and his ability to motivate his colleagues into performing at their full potential again. The upcoming game, after all, will mark the first Rohit leads the side as a full-time leader and not just someone filling in during Kohli’s absence.
It will also be on former India captain Dravid, making his debut as the head coach of the senior side after successful stints with the India U-19 and A sides. Whether he is able to inspire the dressing room in their quest for a first ICC title in nearly a decade. Whether he is able to keep the boys fit and raring to go in the face of adversity like his predecessor Ravi Shastri was able to in the aftermath of the Adelaide debacle last year. Whether he is able to build a team full of match winners for the road ahead long after the Kohlis and the Rohits have hung their boots up.
Dravid of course, wants to strike a balance between winning games and creating a team for the future.
“You have to strike that balance. Of course, we will have to win every single game that we play for India, but you cannot not think about the longer term picture as well,” Dravid told reporters on the eve of the series opener at Jaipur’s Sawai Mansingh Stadium, which will host its first ever Twenty20 International as well as first international game since 2013.
India: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Deepak Chahar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel, Avesh Khan, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Siraj, Ishan Kishan, Venkatesh Iyer, Ruturaj Gaikwad
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Daryl Mitchell, Glenn Phillips, Mark Chapman, James Neesham, Tim Seifert (wk), Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee (c), Lockie Ferguson, Kyle Jamieson, Trent Boult, Ish Sodhi, Todd Astle, Adam Milne
Venue for 1st T20I: Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur
Time: 7 pm IST