The Indian cricket team has embarked on a very important overseas series Down Under against New Zealand. The Kiwis, as they are popularly called because of their flightless national bird, are a difficult side to beat at home.
Once again, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have faltered with their tour scheduling. The Indian team having just beaten the strong Australian side in a three-match ODI series 2-1, were flown the very next day to New Zealand. Quite understandably, India captain Virat Kohli has strongly articulated his concern as regards the planning of the tour.
To be playing a grueling schedule of 5 T20Is, 3 ODIs and two Test matches without time to get properly acclimatized to the conditions in New Zealand, will be a challenge even for this strong Indian side.
The loss against the Kiwis in the semi-final of the World Cup 2019 must still strongly rankle in the minds of the Indian side. A few early losses in this series could pull them down mentally quite significantly.
The New Zealand cricketers have always been a bunch of very nice individuals, who play the game hard but fair. Revenge, as Kohli said quite rightly, is very difficult to contemplate when friendship and kindness is what each one of New Zealand's cricketers exudes after the match.
The problem for most teams touring New Zealand is to get used to their playing conditions. The ball wobbles a fair amount in the air and the pitches are ideal for their fast bowlers. Although the present Indian side has a very good opening attack, they still require time to adjust to the length and direction as well as get the optimum speed and accuracy during the release while bowling. The batsmen have even a tougher task as their shot selection and defense needs a drastic change in order to be successful. This is precisely why, one is concerned about the performance of the Indian side, as without enough time to get adjusted, they could unnecessarily lose the confidence that they have so wonderfully built up through wins against South Africa, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Australia post their World Cup defeat.
The Indian team has two very significant milestones to practice and play for during the series in New Zealand. The first and foremost one is to win the two-match Test series or at least draw it so that they will get sufficient points in their quest to win the first ICC Test Championship next year. A win will put them in a very commanding position to qualify.
The other important task at hand is to play sufficient T20I matches before the T20 World Cup to be played in Australia later on in the year. India is still struggling to get their combination in order. Although, they have very good batting as well as bowling options, the problem India faces is that of choosing the right players for each spot, as they have a pool of very capable players. It is a good position to be in to have such immense talent, but, more than skill, the Indian team requires players with mental strength to play through the vagaries and uncertainties that the great game of cricket has in abundance.
The five T20I matches for India in New Zealand are very important for them to try and test their strengths and weaknesses. India, therefore, should have started the tour with the ODIs and then played the Test series and only thereafter the T20Is.
The New Zealand side has some very good limited-overs players but apart from Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, the other batsmen are still to prove their ability against good spin and fast bowlers in the longer version of the game. Furthermore, New Zealand was recently defeated comprehensively by Australia and so their confidence in the Test match arena must be very low.
India, on paper, along with a surfeit of player options in all the formats of the game, look a much better side than New Zealand, but the Kiwis do have the home advantage to make them into a very forceful team and difficult to beat in their own backyard.
The royal battle will be between the guile of Trent Boult versus Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in the Test series and Kane Williamson against the Indian pack of fast bowlers. The differentiator between the two teams will be the fielding and the catching. The team that shines in it will be the winner.
This series will test the character and mental strength of the present Indian side, after all, a defeat at a world stage is something not easily forgotten. India needs to win with a thumping margin to show that they have buried those 30 disastrous minutes in 2019 that blemished all the good they had done in the year. A tale that the captain, coach and many of the Indian players have spoken about as the scar that exists from the year gone by. This wound needs healing for Indian cricket to get back on track.