Chants of 'ABD..ABD' echoed inside the Wankhede Stadium. Faf du Plessis' heroic 133 had India demoralised. AB De Villiers thumped his bat against the chest as he brought up a 57-ball century to oblige the crowd. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was in tatters with figures of 10-0-106-1, the second-worst in ODIs, and some sarcastic applause. South Africa hammered 438. Rahane's fighting 87-ball 87 was followed by stunned silence and disappointment. India got bundled out for 224 and suffered their worst home defeat and second-worst overall. Then team director Ravi Shastri reportedly went bonkers at chief curator Sudhir Naik.
There was show of class, courage, carnage and chaos the last time an ODI was played at the Wankhede Stadium, back in 2015. India's white-ball fortunes at the venue further took a tumble four months later when India suffered a heartbreaking loss to West Indies in the 2016 World T20 semi-final. Nine months later they did thump England in a Test. However, as Wankhede gets ready to host its first ODI in two years, India would be looking to exorcise their white-ball ghosts of the last couple of years and start off on a positive note with a win against New Zealand.
What will help the hosts is that they have momentum on their side with 10 wins in 11 ODIs. They outclassed Australia 4-1 in their last ODI series. Since that horror day against the Proteas, the Indian bowling has undergone a marked change. Bhuvneshwar lost his mojo after that hammering but has found it back. The entire pace unit has undergone drastic improvement. The emergence of two wrist spinners—Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal—has added an altogether different dimension to the bowling attack.
The Wankhede track had a reddish look to it on the eve of the match and seems to be a good batting wicket. Four days ago, chief curator Ramesh Mamunkar had told Firstpost that we can expect a 'fair and sporty' wicket which will be a typical ODI track with good bounce and carry with something in it for the medium pacers.
With both the teams boasting of a good pace bowling unit, the pacers might play a crucial part. The track might not assist much spin but spinners like Kuldeep, Ish Sodhi and Santner might be effective given that the Wankhede track has always had good bounce.
The return of Shikhar Dhawan, who missed the Australia ODIs to attend to his ailing wife, means that homeboy Ajinkya Rahane might not make it to the starting eleven. India would look to solve their middle order and especially their No 4 puzzle in the batting department. And one of their biggest challenges, which Rohit Sharma too acknowledged, is tackling left-arm pacer Trent Boult given the fact that they haven't had a great time against left-arm pacers of late.
"For us as batters, it will be a challenge to face a left-arm seamer and Trent Boult being one of their prime left-arm fast bowlers, it will be a huge challenge for all the batters to come good against (him)," Rohit told reporters in a press conference.
Boult has warmed up to the ODI series with a five-for in one of the practice games.
It looks less likely that Kohli will opt for Dinesh Karthik over Manish Pandey in the middle order.
The Kiwis have a strong bowling unit and it would be interesting to see if they go in with an extra seamer in Adam Milne or Matt Henry over one of Mitchell Santner or Ish Sodhi.
The New Zealand batting line-up is top-heavy, and it's their inexperienced middle order that India would be looking to find loopholes in. Captain Kane Willianson, Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor will form the spine of the batting line-up. Williamson confirmed that Colin Munro will open the batting with Guptill. Tom Latham's move to middle order will add much-needed steel at No 5 given his ability to play spin well. Latham impressed on the last tour and was the highest run-getter in the ODI series for the Kiwis the last time they toured India in 2016. And he has got into the groove early with scores of 59 and 108 in the two warm-up games.
"The opening batsmen for tomorrow are Guptill and Munro, two good ball strikers. Munro and Guptill at the top are both exciting stroke makers and look to play their natural game which I think is important," Williamson said in the pre-match press conference.
"Tom Latham will bat in the middle order. He had some good time in the middle in the last couple of warm-up games and will obviously keep (wickets)."
New Zealand's 'A' tour might have helped the players get acclimatised to the conditions and rather than the pressure of inexperience, it's a case of opportunities for the middle order.
"Yes, we have got a relatively new middle order. They certainly deserve their position. These guys were here on the A tour and experienced these conditions for a while, coming into the series, which is always good," Williamson said.
Henry Nicholls, Glenn Phillips and George Worker will fight for one place in the middle order.
However, a lot will depend on how the New Zealand batting line-up handles India's in-form wrist spinners.
There is no rain expected and the humidity levels might reach as high as 77 percent, according to the weather forecast. Dew won't play much of a part as it only starts to set in after 9-9.30 in the night.
The Wankhede match will signal yet another milestone for Kohli as he is set to play his 200th ODI. And the rest of the team members would be looking to make it special with a win in front of what always is a boisterous crowd which might help wipe off the scars of that gloomy evening at the Wankhede two years ago.
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