Confidence plays a crucial role in sport. Just ask Virat Kohli, who lost his form during the 2014 England Test series and went on a lengthy period of struggle, among the toughest phases of his career. He did recover eventually, and later revealed that recovering mental confidence was an important step in regaining his form.
At times you will be helpless; you may feel strangulated, choked. That's what confidence loss does to a person. Sometimes you need to remain patient and let that phase pass.
The visiting New Zealanders must be experiencing this currently. The thumping they received in the Test series must have hampered their confidence. In fact, it's not just them; most teams would feel so when on a long and arduous tour. The energy starts to sap, and things only worsen with each successive defeat, with the result that by the time the tour ends, they are completely paralysed. The only thing one can do now is to forget the past and hit an immediate reboot button.
Whitewashed 3-0 in Tests. Never won a bilateral series in India in four attempts. Lost ODI series 5-0 on their last visit to India. If the Kiwis look back at their track record in these conditions, they might be depressed instantly. With the Test series done and dusted, they need to start afresh and hit the ground running.
This is where their pacers would have to put their hands up, and do so from the first ODI at Dharamsala. The wicket at the the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) Stadium is one of the few in the country that provides assistance to the pacers. Having faced the 'heat' in the Test series, things will be a lot cooler in Dharamsala, located at the foothills of the Dhauladhar mountain range, and the atmospheric conditions would also assist swing. The return of Tim Southee, who missed the Test series due to injury, makes it a very potent pace attack for the visitors, with Trent Boult and Matt Henry looking to carry their good form forward.
HPCA curator Sunil Chauhan has said the pitch should behave the same throughout 100 overs. "It will help the seamers more than the spinners," Chauhan said. "It is a 'perfect ODI pitch' and I am hopeful of a 270-plus score."
If the Kiwis were feeling low, they didn't show it. The team looked relaxed during their practice sessions and seemed to be having fun.
Captain Kane Williamson will have to take a call on whether to include a spinner in Ish Sodhi, who performed well on the same ground against Australia in the World T20, or persist with Henry. They also have a third seam bowling option in all-rounder Jimmy Neesham.
The bigger worry, however, will be over the form of his batsmen. New Zealand's top order was very disappointing in the Tests, but the absence of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja should improve their spirits. The Indian bowling looks inexperienced, and the Kiwis could capitalise on this. If they are to do this, the seniors would need to lead from the front. Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor and Williamson all struggled in the Tests, with averages of 26.50, 14.83 and 33.75 respectively.
ODIs could be a different ball game, especially for Guptill, who has been in good form in limited overs cricket over the last one-and-a-half years. Since 8 June, 2015, he averages 61.38 with three centuries and eight half centuries. Taylor too has been consistent in this format and is the highest-run scorer against India among the current Kiwi players with an average of 44.40, two centuries and four half-centuries. Williamson looked like a deer trapped in front of the headlights while facing Ashwin in the Tests, but with the off-spinner rested for the ODIs, the New Zealand skipper would want to get back to his best. He also averages a decent 44.90 against India.
The addition of Corey Anderson has added spine to the batting line-up. Anderson has done well in India, and knows the conditions well thanks to the Indian Premier League. Though it looks unlikely that he will bowl, after being out for more than six months due to injury, his overall IPL experience will come in handy for the visitors.
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"We are lucky that we have the IPL. We have players who have played with them (Indian cricketers) in the IPL," said Luke Ronchi during the pre-match press conference. "You actually know more about these people because IPL is live on TV all around the world. You get the footage. Obviously different batsmen can do amazing things; even Manish Pandey did really well in Australia, and we have seen his footage from the IPL. You don't go into a series not knowing anything any more. We also have had New Zealand coaches in the IPL. So I think we've got enough footage and information about India to get them out early or hit them out of park," Ronchi added.
This will just be the start of 24 more ODIs New Zealand are due to play before the 2017 Champions Trophy in England. India, however, might fall short, as they have just eight ODIs lined up. It's imperative that MS Dhoni manages to channelise the momentum Indians gathered by winning the Tests. He would also look out for effective sidekicks who can assist the core group of players, as he tries to find his best combination ahead of the Champions Trophy. This is where the likes of Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav, Jayant Yadav, Amit Mishra, Dhawal Kulkarni, Axar Patel and Umesh Yadav would have to show their mettle in the limited chances they get with the main players rested.
"We get an opportunity to test other players and see the bench strength. We are just playing eight ODIs this season. So, whatever plans we have, we can check them in these matches," Dhoni said in the pre-match conference.
Dhoni himself will look to get into the groove and improve his ODI form, and indications are that he might bat up the order, probably at No 5. "I may bat slightly up the order now. This team will give me an opportunity to bat at the number I'm looking for. But it will still be quite low. It's not like a No 4 where I could bat. It'll be relatively higher than what I'm used to in the last few years though," Dhoni said in the pre-match conference.
Jasprit Bumrah is likely to lead the bowling efforts for the hosts, and Dhawal Kulkarni may get the nod ahead of Umesh Yadav. Hardik Pandya will be the third pace bowling option, leaving Amit Mishra leading spin efforts with Axar Patel as his deputy. It would be interesting to see if this inexperienced quintet can outshine its Kiwi counterpart.
Kedar Jadhav and all-rounder Jayant Yadav had long net sessions, with Jadhav also rolling his arm over. But with Dhoni likely to persist with six batsmen and four bowlers, and with the pitch assisting pacers, Yadav isn't likely to feature in the first ODI.
Pandya, meanwhile, will be looking to make amends after being dropped for the Zimbabwe tour following a poor IPL. Ajinkya Rahane will open with Rohit Sharma in the absence of the injured Shikhar Dhawan. All eyes though would be on Virat Kohli, who finally found his form in the third Test with a resolute double ton. The last time he played at the HPCA, he scored 127 off 114 balls, in 2014 to power India to a 59-run win over West Indies. Considering the inexperienced bowling India have, it's their batsmen who would have to shoulder responsibility.
The dew might be an important factor in the game. At around 6.45 pm, the dew starts taking effect. Anti-dew has been sprayed on the outfield and no watering has been done in the last couple of days, but the toss will still remain significant. The Black Caps did not win a single toss in the Test series.
New Zealand have been impressive in 50-over cricket since the 2015 World Cup, where they finished runners-up. They have won four out of their last six ODI series since the World Cup. "It's a completely different ball game now (after the Test series), completely different cricket, a cricket which we have been playing really well for a while now. Tests are gone. We can't do anything about it. Now we are just looking forward to the five ODIs," Ronchi had said. "We are a good ODI team and if we can continue playing the way we have been for a while now, it's going to make for an interesting series."
The Dharamsala ODI will be India's 900th. India have played two ODIs previously at this ground, winning one and losing one. The Kiwis will play for the first time in an ODI at Dharamsala. The average first innings score at this ground is 274. With pace, bounce and carry available, we might be in for a good contest. However, it will all be about New Zealand's confidence versus India's momentum.
India's probable XI: Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Amit Mishra, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jasprit Bumrah
New Zealand's Probable XI: Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi, James Neesham, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi/Matt Henry, Trent Boult