It has been quite the summer Down Under for the Indian cricket team. An epochal Test series triumph in Australia was followed up by a maiden bilateral ODI series victory in the country.
For the man at the helm of affairs, things got even better a day ahead of his team’s next assignment – on Tuesday, 22 January, Virat Kohli swept the ICC Awards in a manner unseen before (and unlikely to be witnessed anytime after, you’d dare say).
You could be forgiven for thinking whatever follows from here is an add-on, but those prioritising sense over sentiment will tell you this is the main course.
The Men in Blue have arrived in New Zealand, and the Black Caps are likely to present a far sterner examination than Australia did earlier in January.
Napier’s McLean Park is the venue for the opening act of the five-match ODI series.
Another Blot to Correct
While the quality of opposition facing them has changed, the scenario ahead of the contest isn’t too different; much like their past woes in Australia, visiting Indian teams have enjoyed scant success on their travels further east on the Trans-Tasman.
Only one of India’s seven ODI series in New Zealand, in 2008/09, has resulted in a win. The last such contest, five years ago, finished 4-0 in favour of the hosts.
India’s struggles in New Zealand are further enhanced by a glimpse at the head-to-head numbers between the countries – while India have their noses ahead on the overall count, the Kiwis have won nearly two-thirds of home matches against India.
The track record at Napier, however, reads much better for Team India. Three day-night appearances at the McLean Park have resulted in two wins for the visitors.
MSD’s Happy-Hunting Ground
There’s been a lot of talk around Mahendra Singh Dhoni in recent times, and most of it can be reduced down to one question: should he be part of India’s World Cup plans?
Virat Kohli has given the firmest verbal backing for his former captain, Ravi Shastri has had a typically belligerent response himself, but the best answer was provided by the man himself – Dhoni hit half-centuries in each of India’s three ODIs in Australia, and while the first was widely criticised, the two that followed played a large part in India winning the series.
At 37 years and six months, he became the oldest-ever recipient of a Man-of-the-Series award in ODIs, and he carries that momentum to one of his happiest-hunting grounds in international cricket.
Dhoni averages over 90 in 12 ODIs in New Zealand, second only to Pakistan in terms of his most favoured countries to bat in.
His successor doesn’t fare too badly, either: Kohli has 373 runs from seven matches in the country, at an average of 62.
Can Shami Cement WC Berth?
Another seasoned campaigner comes into the series with happy memories from previous trips to the country.
Mohammed Shami has 17 wickets from just seven ODIs in New Zealand, at an average under 24.
With Jasprit Bumrah continuing his well-earned break from cricket, Shami is set to get a prolonged run in the team. Having scalped five wickets in three ODIs in Australia, and more crucially limited the run-flow, the 28-year-old could take big steps towards booking his ticket to England come May with a successful outing.
Kane’s Kiwis: Ever-Improving
The tag of everyone’s favourites rests firmly with New Zealand in international cricket – evidenced by a fifth Spirit of Cricket title at the ICC Awards in the last decade.
But Kane Williamson’s Kiwis have shown themselves to be far from friendly when it comes to taking the game by the neck, especially at home.
New Zealand have the best win-loss ratio in ODIs at home since the start of 2015, winning nearly 80% of all matches in the time-period.
Juxtapose that with India’s 50-over nous – the Men in Blue have the second-best record among all teams since the 2015 World Cup – and you see why it’s game on.
Virat Kohli and company may be eyeing a feast-ending dessert in the Southern Hemisphere; they are likely to find this the sternest examination of their travels.
(With statistical inputs from Arun Gopalakrishnan)
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