The inaugural New Zealand-Asia Indoor Cricket Cup is a month away and two of the seven teams have finalised their squads for the tournament at the Indoor Premier Cricket Stadium in Singapore from 3 - 6 April.
While New Zealand named their travelling side last month, the current Asian Champions India held their Open Men's selection trials in Bangalore in February after which they selected their touring party for the tournament.
Experienced faces to lead India into battle
India last competed at the Australasia Cup in Sri Lanka back in September 2018 where they lost in the final against Australia. Before that they defeated Singapore and traded wins with the Sri Lankans during the round-robin stages, while also pushing the current World Champions Australia in one of their contests.
The team has a pretty settled look to it, with eight players from that Australasia Cup squad returning for this tournament, whilst six players from that group were also part of last year's Asia Cup and the 2017 World Cup.
Mohammed Khizer Ahmed will lead the side and has Vijay Hanumantharayappa, playing his seventh-straight international tournament, as his vice-captain. Daivik Rai and Girish KG will be playing their fourth international tournament, whilst Mohan Reddy, Afroz and Suraj Reddy were also selected. Dhanush Bhaskar, who brought up his 50th international cap during the Australasia Cup and is the most experienced player in the squad, will line up for his eighth-straight international tournament in blue.
With two of the three indoor cricket centres in India being located in Bangalore (the other in Mumbai), it is no surprise that 11 of the 12-man squad are from Karnataka whilst there is one representative from Maharashtra in left-arm pace bowling all-rounder Yoganand Ghatge, who impressed during the recent Open's selection trials. The two Kolkata players who were part of the Australasia Cup squad, Vikash Rathore and Mihir, have been left out this time though Abu Talha and Prasanna Kumar have been included in the reserves. Syed Zain, who will play as the specialist keeper (with Suraj Reddy as back-up) and Aries Khan have earned recalls after last featuring at the 2017 World Cup.
Bhaskar, who debuted in 2011 and is a senior hand now having played 54 Tests, sees a lot more balance in the team selected and is looking forward to a competitive tournament. "There is a good mix in all three departments with the team selected. With eight experienced players returning from the Australasia Cup and a couple of new players being introduced into international indoor cricket, I'm excited for what this team can achieve", Bhaskar told Sportskeeda.
"It will be the biggest tournament outside of the World Cup. New Zealand is obviously one of the top sides in World Indoor Cricket, whilst Sri Lanka and ourselves pushed Australia last year. Singapore are ever improving and will be on home turf, so I think this be a good competition. It should give us a good gauge of where we are at ahead of next year's World Cup in Australia", said Bhaskar.
Bhaskar also sees the tournament as a great opportunity to publicise Indian Indoor Cricket to the viewing public. "We are a continually developing indoor cricket nation since coming under the Indian Indoor Sports Federation banner in 2011. India's participation in such an event is key for the publicity of indoor cricket in India and for the betterment of the sport itself, which is gradually moving in the right direction. This is a great chance to showcase indoor cricket in Asia again and publicise the game to the rest of the world in the right way", Bhaskar said.
India Open Men's Squad:
Mohammed Khizer Ahmed (C), Vijay Hanumantharayappa (VC), Girish KG, Dhanush Bhaskar, Daivik Rai, Aries Khan, Suraj Reddy, Syed Zain, Afroz, Yoganand Ghatge, Qamar M F, Mohan Reddy
Reserves: Prasanna Kumar, Abu Talha, Shridhar, Sandeep Mayanna
Coach: Taher Ali Khan
Assistant Coach: Santhosh Anand
Manager: Shakthi Velu
New-look New Zealand ready to make an impact
On the other side of the World, New Zealand's 11-man squad features four debutants, four players from their last outing at the 2017 World Cup and recalls for a couple of experienced hands, ensuring an interesting mix of players to choose from in new head coach Leigh Kelly's playing group.
While they also have a home series against Australia later this year, Kelly relayed the message that their focus, for now, was on the tournament in Singapore where they come in as favourites, and which would provide opportunities for new players to press their case for selection going forward.
"We are going into this tournament with our eyes wide open. We will be lining up against some good sides, all of which we haven't seen since the last World Cup, and for this group, a balance of youth and experience, it will pose a good challenge", Kelly told Sportskeeda.
"It gives us a chance to have a look at some new players we have brought into the Open Men's environment and seeing how they go on the international stage. We aren't looking beyond this tournament but with a series against Australia at home in September and the World Cup next year, every performance counts. Outside of this travelling team, we have a group of 20-25 other players who are in contention for the Open Men's team, so there is a lot of competition for spots".
"There is a bit of excitement about this squad. I think we have the bases well covered in terms of the strategy we are looking to implement and we just need to put that together on the court in what will be different conditions to what we are used to. We are looking forward to the challenge ahead", said Kelly.
With some players such as Jesse Ryder being unavailable and qualification criteria of having needed to have played at last year's Provincial Championships, there were places up for grabs and the New Zealand management have opted to select some untested players, reward good form and place reliance on experience. Victor Davies, Michael Dodunski, Ben Saunders and BJ Crook all played at the last World Cup, whilst there were maiden call-ups for Mitchell Gardner, his brother Braden, and Corey Perrett and Taine Jolley who both played for the Under-22 side at the same World Cup.
There were recalls for a couple of veteran indoor players, with Bryce Fellows selected to add to his 44 caps, the last of which was in 2014 alongside Micah Campbell, and Darrin Crook, who has been in great form over the past year on the New Zealand domestic scene.
New Zealand will assemble for a training camp at the end of March before flying out to Singapore for the tournament.
New Zealand Open Men's Squad:
Micah Campbell, Darrin Crook, BJ Crook, Victor Davies, Michael Dodunski, Bryce Fellows, Mitchell Gardner, Braden Gardner, Taine Jolley, Corey Perrett, Ben Saunders
Coach: Leigh Kelly
Assistant Coach: Jonathan Routhan
Manager: Tony Watkins