Having gotten past a strong Australian outfit in a three-match ODI series at home, India are now preparing for the New Zealand challenge, which begins with a five-match T20I series. The first game would be played at Eden Park in Auckland on January 24.
India does not have a great record in T20Is against New Zealand, having won only three of the 11 contests between the two teams. Even during the tour to the Kiwi nation early last year, India won the ODIs comprehensively by a 4-1 margin, but faltered in the T20Is, losing the close series 2-1.
With five T20Is to be played on the current tour, it will give some of the Indian players an opportunity to stake their claim for a spot in the World T20 squad, which will be held in Australia later this year. On that note, here’s a pick of three Indian players to watch out for.
#3 Sanju Samson
In recent timea, no Indian cricketer has been in and out of the team as much as Kerala wicket-keeper batsman Sanju Samson. And the axe has been unfair, as he has often been dropped without being given ample opportunities to prove his worth. Samson was initially dropped for the West Indies T20Is at home without being given a chance against Bangladesh. He was added to the squad after Shikhar Dhawan was ruled out owing to an injury.
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History repeated itself with Samson being originally not chosen for T20Is in New Zealand. The 25-year-old made a two-ball six against Sri Lanka in the Pune T20I, and was conveniently ignored for the New Zealand T20Is. He even posted a cryptic tweet with a comma on his Twitter account. However, Dhawan again came to Samson’s ‘rescue’. His latest injury has meant another chance for Samson.
With five T20Is to be held in New Zealand, Samson should get a couple of opportunities to prove his worth. He has earned it on the back of some fantastic performances in domestic cricket, including 212 off 129 balls representing Kerala against Goa in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
#2 Navdeep Saini
27-year-old Navdeep Saini is India’s latest pace sensation. He has come up with a couple of memorable performances in a short international career, and his ability to bowl real quick can be an asset to the team if he can maintain his fitness.
Saini was the man of the match in the Indore T20I against Sri Lanka earlier this month. He dismissed Danushka Gunathilaka with an unplayable yorker and also bowled a well-directed short ball to get rid of Bhanuka Rajapaksa.
He continued his good work at Pune, this time cleaning up Kusal Perera with a yorker, and dismissing Dhananjaya de Silva with a short ball to finish with 3 for 28. Saini was named man of the series for his impressive showing.
Not many may actually remember that Saini was, in fact, man of the match on his T20I debut against West Indies at Lauderhill in August last year. He picked up 3 for 17, dismissing Nicholas Pooran, Kieron Pollard and Shimron Hetmyer. While he was expensive in the ODIs against Australia, he did claim a couple of crucial scalps.
Different conditions on offer in New Zealand will definitely test Saini. It remains to be seen how he responds to the challenge.
#1 Manish Pandey
Although a veteran on the T20 circuit, 30-year-old Manish Pandey is yet to establish himself on the international level. He has impressed in the sporadic opportunities that he has got, but it has been an up and down journey for most part. With the finisher spot up for grabs as the World T20 approaches, Pandey will be keen to stake his claim for the same.
His 31 not out off 18 balls against Sri Lanka at Pune in the 3rd T20I was a crucial knock that saw India going past 200 despite the loss of a few quick wickets. Before that, he smashed an unbeaten 60 from 45 in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy final, leading Karnataka to victory.
During the tour of South Africa in February 2018, Pandey hit a magnificent 79 not out from 48 balls with six fours and three sixes at Centurion. However, South Africa went on to chase 189 in the match, and hence the innings lost its sheen. The innings though reiterated how dangerous a player Pandey can be in T20Is.
Pandey has all the shots in the book to be a star at the T20 level. What he needs is the backing of the team management so that he can go out and bat without the fear of losing his place in the side.