India are on song as far as their recent limited overs performances are concerned. They were convincing in all departments on their way to their first bilateral series win in Australia. They followed that up with a thumping 4-1 series win in New Zealand, repeating the feat they managed to achieve way back in 2009.
The nature and dominance of their performances have been rather impressive, especially considering the fact that India are considered weak travelers. Virat Kohli has infused a tremendous amount of self-belief and confidence within the team, and that's reflected in the way everybody is contributing regularly.
A positive trend for India coming out of their recent ODI series win against the Kiwis was that there was no one player who stood out in ensuring they won the series. If it was the likes of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and the spin duo who dominated in the first three games, the resilience and determination of Ambati Rayudu and Vijay Shankar came to the fore at Wellington.
India would very well know that they have just a handful of T20Is and ODIs before the squad for the ICC World Cup 2019 gets finalized. Every game from now will be played with one eye on the big tournament.
Hence, some chopping and changing of key personnel, and trying out some new faces, would be the order of the day.
India will take on New Zealand in a three-match T20I series starting on 6th February at Wellington. They have rested their captain Kohli and premier speedster Jasprit Bumrah for this series. Rohit Sharma will captain a squad that has the right balance of experience and youth.
Looking ahead to the T20I series which starts tomorrow, here's looking at three Indian players whose performance will be closely monitored:
1. MS Dhoni
A lot of talk and debate revolved around the surprise inclusion of Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the T20I series against the Kiwis. This, after all, had come after he was dropped from the T20I sides that faced off against the Windies and Australia earlier on.
The reasoning behind his exclusion was justified. Dhoni has struggled in the past 12-15 months to string together scores of substance in the shortest format for India. With the need for batsmen to constantly innovate in a bid to push up the scoring rate, MSD was failing on multiple fronts.
As a T20 player and captain he showed what he's truly capable of with his brilliant performance for the returning Chennai Super Kings (CSK) franchise in the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year. But he wasn't converting the spark and finishing touch he displayed for CSK when he played for India.
With the young and fiery Rishabh Pant waiting in the wings, time ran out and MSD was axed from the T20I squad.
With only the T20I series against the Kiwis and the limited overs series at home against Australia remaining to be played before the World Cup, the selectors have decided to give MSD as much game time as possible.
It would be interesting how Dhoni perceives this series. He probably would know that DInesh Karthik will play as a pure batsmen in the lower middle-order, leaving him to don the wicket-keeping gloves for this series.
His inclusion in the team certainly brings lot of experience to this side. And if he can carry on his recent batting form from the ODIs (he was the MOS in India's 2-1 series win against Australia), then his selection would be justified.
2. Dinesh Karthik
Dinesh Karthik's rise as a T20 player provides the much needed ammunition to the Indian batting line up in T20Is. The calm and composed manner in which he manages to judge the situation of the game is a real bonus for India, especially at a time when MSD's finishing touches are slowly waning away.
It started with the Nidahas Trophy final where Karthik helped India clinch the win with an audacious display of hitting that left Bangladesh stunned. That was followed by him taking the reins of KKR in IPL 2019, where his wicket-keeping and batting skills only grew in stature.
Karthik has established himself as the backup wicket-keeper for MSD in India's ODI setup. That said, he would be ruing the fact that while he got the opportunity to don the gloves when MSD was injured in the ODI series against the Kiwis, he couldn't impress.
Karthik would want to get back to scoring ways in a format that has suited him the most in recent times. He has three T20Is against New Zealand at Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland followed by two T20Is against the Aussies at home to reinforce his worth.
He would surely want to put up strong performances in these games and carry that form into the ODIs. The Indian team management would also want their reserve wicket-keeper to be in good shape and nick going into a tournament as big as the World Cup.
3. Hardik Pandya
Hardik Pandya has gone through a lot personally and professionally in recent times. He was ruled out of India's tour of Australia owing to an injury. And in the middle of his recovery and the road back to the Indian team, his antics along with those of KL Rahul on the chat show Koffee With Karan meant he was banned for 3 games.
More than the ban imposed on him, it was the nature of the comments he made on the chat show that was uncalled for. He is considered by many youngsters as a role model, and his behavior completely goes against the ethos of how an international cricketer should behave in the public domain.
It was refreshing to see Pandya put all the off-field drama behind him and make a positive comeback into the ODI set up against the Kiwis recently. Pandya offers a complete package - very good in the field, effective bowler and a swashbuckling batsman coming lower down the order - and that's what makes him so useful to the team.
All these factors were visible in the ODI series. His marvelous catch to dismiss Kane Williamson will be remembered for a long time; it clearly was the catch of the series. And the way he marauded five sixes in Wellington after Ambati Rayudu and Vijay Shankar steadied the innings signified his finishing abilities.
The T20I series will provide Pandya the opportunity to express himself to the fullest, and his fans would be hoping they can get to see some entertaining cricket from him.