India are prepared to welcome New Zealand for a limited-overs series after sending the Australians packing and the visitors are faced with the arduous task of destroying the Indian battalion. The Kiwis had watched from their homes as India trampled over the hapless Sri Lankans and thrashed the mighty Aussies. Now, their turn has arrived and much like the other two teams, they do not have a lot to boast about in terms of results in the recent past.
Last year, when the two teams clashed in the inaugural match of the T20 World Cup in India, nobody gave New Zealand a chance. India were the dominant, powerful hosts armed with a plethora of hitters and a slew of slower bowlers, but New Zealand gave the Indians a dose of their own medicine as their spinners spun a web around the batsmen and churned out a surprising victory.
While memories of that victory are still fresh in the minds of fans and players, India still remain the final frontier for New Zealand. They have won just seven One Day Internationals against India in India but have lost 24. The win-loss ratio stands at 0.291 as they embark on another sub-continental adventure.
The Black Caps are in dire need of fresh ideas and renewed enthusiasm and it would be better if they do not put all their eggs in one basket. The spinners, Mitchell Santner and Todd Astle, are under the spotlight but New Zealand's best bet would be that threatening, supremely talented left-arm seamer, Trent Boult.
The Kiwi fast bowler isn't new to India. He has been a part and parcel of the Indian Premier League (IPL) over the past few years, albeit with limited opportunities in the playing XI. In 2016, during an IPL season, Boult had gotten so frustrated of being in the sidelines of the Sunrisers Hyderabad franchise that he blurted out in an interview, “There’s the food, which is great, the people, the colour, the culture … it’s fun to be in India. But I’d rather be playing, no doubt.”
Boult is a special talent in New Zealand's long history of fast bowlers. Richard Hadlee, that legendary Black Caps seamer, feels that he forms one half of the best new ball pair New Zealand have ever had (the other being Tim Southee, of course). His comments aren't totally baseless.
In the past two years, he is the second highest wicket-taker among quick bowlers in One Day International cricket. With 80 wickets in 41 games at an average of 23.72, Boult has eye-catching numbers. Combined with a terrific strike rate of 28.4, Boult remains a wicket-taking option for the Kiwis in this format of the game.
What really sets him apart from the others is his outstanding numbers against the top order of batting line-ups. 37 of his 90 ODI wickets have been of batsmen from positions 1-3 and he averages less than 20 against openers. The ability to make the new ball talk in every possible manner makes Boult a constant threat in the powerplay overs.
One factor that pegs the Black Caps seamer back is that 62 of his ODI wickets have come on home soil, where he has played more than half of the total numbers of matches. He does not have more than 10 wickets in any other country in this format of the game, but this is mainly owing to the few number of games he has played outside New Zealand.
His numbers in India across formats do not reek of something special, but New Zealand and Boult might want to change that in the upcoming series. India, of late, have struggled against left-arm seamers across formats. Mohammad Amir, Mitchell Starc, Wahab Riaz and of late, Jason Behrendoff have all had success against India.
Take a glance at India’s best five batsmen in ODIs and their averages against left-arm seamers in comparison to their overall averages and there definitely seems to be a trend. A good one for Boult, but certainly not for India.
The right-handers in the side have definitely struggled against left-arm pace. The Indians are so used to plonking their foot forward and hitting bowlers through the line that when the odd bowler swings it back into their pads, they are left clueless.
This is a disturbing stat for a team that prides itself on being at the top of the world in One-Day cricket. It is a glaring weakness amongst India’s several positives but teams just haven't produced enough consistent left-arm seamers to trouble the mighty Indian batting line-up.
In Boult, though, New Zealand have a strong opening bowler who relishes swinging the new ball. He was at it again for the Kiwis in their warm-up match against the Board President’s XI, picking up a five-wicket haul although the visitors did end up losing the encounter.
"If you can get two or three down inside the first powerplay, it can really put a lot of pressure on the opposition and set up the game. But they played nicely. The ball did what we wanted to do in terms of swing and got line and length, but they kept it out easily. So, coming back and taking wickets in clumps is important for us. Today, it worked in parts and not in some," Boult had said after the match.
His plans would remain pretty much the same against India's top order too which is quickly forming a habit of crumbling in clusters against left-arm seamers. The Mohammad Amir rout in the Champions Trophy final and Jason Behrendorff's sensational spell at Guwahati left India reeling. It is this kind of impact that New Zealand expects from its strike bowler. Boult is a master in the powerplay overs and if the ball does move around, he would be the man the Kiwis look up to in order to push India to a corner.