India vs New Zealand | New Zealand Tour Another Opportunity for India to Finetune T20 Combination

Cricketnext Staff

After a gap of just four days from their last international, India are set to begin their next tour, that of New Zealand, with the first T20I in Auckland on Friday (January 24).

The players are perhaps still recovering from jet-lags, but that doesn't stop the cruel cricket calendar from ticking. India, though, will not be complaining much. Five T20Is in New Zealand early in the year provide them with yet another opportunity to finetune their combinations with an eye on the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.

What will India be looking at in this series?

Conditions similar to Australia, yet different

India will look at this series as a crucial part of their preparations because this is as close they can get to Australia - in terms of distance and cricketing conditions - as possible. The grounds are smaller in size but apart from that, the other factors will be similar. Pitches should be batsmen friendly, and yet pacers will have some say. The spinners' job will be to keep things tight, allowing pace to take the key role.

India move on to the IPL after this tour, and are not scheduled yet to play further T20s in this part of the world before the World Cup. Thus, they will be glad that this is a long T20 series (five matches), allowing them ample time to test their options.

Shikhar Dhawan's absence makes opening decision easier

India's best opening pair in T20I cricket currently is Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul. India would have been in a dilemma on how to accommodate Shikhar Dhawan, but his shoulder injury makes that decision easier.

Dhawan scored a half-century in India's last T20I, against Sri Lanka. But apart from that, he hasn't been in the best of forms in this format, with questions raised over his strike rate. Rahul, meanwhile, has done everything one can ask from him. These five games will give him yet another opportunity to lock that place for himself. It's perhaps a good thing for India, given Rahul and Rohit have been their most consistent T20 openers in recent times.

A workout for the middle order

Five matches should be good enough time for India to test their middle order options. India have in recent series shown inclination towards giving batting time to some of their middle order batsmen, even if that means Virat Kohli moving down the order.

Shivam Dube batted at No. 3 in a T20I against West Indies, while Shreyas Iyer and Sanju Samson batted in that position in two matches against Sri Lanka. Kohli, in fact, batted at No. 6 in the last T20I.

This allows India to test these options even if the openers give good starts. One of the issues India have had in recent years, especially in ODIs, is that the top three have done bulk of the batting, leaving little game-time for middle order options. India are keen on ensuring that doesn't happen in T20Is as well.

It also allows Kohli to test himself in a new role - that of playing aggressor from ball one. He has done that well so far, scoring 30* (17) and 26 (17) in the last two matches. We could see more of that in New Zealand.

Chance for Rishabh Pant to move away from competition

Rahul keeping wickets with good success has turned the heat on Pant, who was not picked in the last ODI against Australia. Pant's concussion due to a bouncer from Pat Cummins allowed Rahul to don the gloves, and he took the opportunity with both hands doing well with bat in the middle order and gloves.

Had Dhawan been available for this tour, India might have been tempted to retain a similar core for T20Is as well. Ravi Shastri said in a recent interview that India will be using ODIs as a platform for T20Is this year. Thus, India might have considered benching Pant to play Dhawan and Rahul in the XI.

Now, Pant is almost guaranteed a good run in the middle order. He was rotated out for Sanju Samson in India's last T20I, but he's still the first-choice keeper-batsman. Pant played a couple of decent cameos against West Indies in the earlier series, and will be looking to do more when he gets the chance. A couple of strong performances should seal the deal for him.

Strong pace attack led by Bumrah

India have got their strongest attack, barring Deepak Chahar who is out with an injury. Jasprit Bumrah leads the way, with an experienced Mohammed Shami in the rank. Upcoming star Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur, who has impressed with ball and bat, are the other two pacers. With Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, along with Washington Sundar and Ravindra Jadeja, India have their core bowling unit. It's likely that this, perhaps along with Chahar for one of the pacers, will be the attack India go in with for the T20 World Cup.