| Mahendra Singh Dhoni |
Calcutta: Team India will have their task cut out when they take on New Zealand in the five-match one-day series, starting in Napier on Sunday.
India must win the series if they have to retain their No.1 status in the ICC team rankings.
India are sitting atop the rankings table with 120 ratings points, and enter the series leading eighth-ranked New Zealand by 36 ratings points.
If India lose the series they will lose their numero uno status and as many as six ratings points.
If India do not manage to win the series against New Zealand, either Australia or England could stake a claim to the No.1 spot.
New Zealand arrived in Napier on Thursday while the Indians landed on Monday. For Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Co, this will be another tough test after the series in South Africa.
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson has called on his fast bowlers to be aggressive against the Indians.
Much of the attention will focus on who takes Yuvraj Singh’s place in the batting order.
Will it be the back-up No. 4 Suresh Raina, who has long wanted to bat up the order? Will it be Ajinkya Rahane, who has slowly started to exert his presence? Or will it be Ambati Rayudu, who has travelled with the squad without playing much?
During the home series against Australia in October, India had sent Raina ahead of Yuvraj to try and increase their options for the No. 4 position.
Dhoni had said that if Yuvraj’s form and health held up till the World Cup, he would continue to be the preferred No. 4. Only two short series later, against West Indies and South Africa, Yuvraj has been dropped for lack of form.
This No.4 slot will be of immense importance in the lead-up to the World Cup next year.
Given the conditions, it is likely that India will go in with a three-pronged pace attack comprising Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron and Mohammed Shami.
New Zealand are hoping fast and bouncy wickets will rattle India. Hesson also wants his bowlers not to repeat the mistakes they committed during the West Indies series, when their pacers let the visitors off the hook.
“It’s aggression in terms of where you bowl the ball, the pace you bowl and the areas you bowl. You’re not just running up and putting it there and hoping good things will happen, you’re actually trying to make things happen. We’ve got a few guys who do that naturally so we’ll certainly be encouraging that,” Hesson was quoted as saying in the New Zealand media.
“If you just try and deny there comes a time in the game with only four fielders out where it’s extremely hard to defend.
“If you’re able to keep taking wickets at the top you can control those middle overs. That’s a pattern that’s worked well for us and one we’d certainly look to continue,” Hesson said.
Hesson said the pitch at the McLean Park will play true to its character.
“Quick, bouncy, a good wicket, a high scoring game, that’s the pattern we get there and it’s been pretty consistent,” he said.
Curator Phil Stoyanoff has also said that even though the surface would be hard and bouncy, it will be a high-scoring game where pacers can be punished to the short side boundaries if they err in line.
Hesson also hoped to play new sensation Adam Milne, who troubled the Caribbean batsmen with his raw pace, in the Napier ODI. Tim Southee is sure to play and either Milne, Mitchell McClenaghan or Kyle Mills will miss out.
Hesson said Mills has been an asset to the team and if he makes it to the playing XI, he will have the new ball. “Kyle has been a great performer for a long time and if he plays he’ll use the new ball. We used him first change in the subcontinent and he did a good job. But him not having the new ball here negates some of his qualities.
All four of the guys know that there’s competition for places and that’s a really good thing,” Hesson said.
India (likely): Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Varun Aaron.
New Zealand (from): Brendon McCullum, Corey Anderson, Martin Guptill, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Adam Milne, James Neesham, Luke Ronchi (wk), Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson.
Match starts: 6.30 am IST (Sunday).