After just three games, the contest was over. The five-match series was sealed and the last two matches were just dead rubbers. Such was India's dominance in New Zealand that the hosts scratched their heads in bewilderment, frowned with appreciation, and even started to revise their strategies for the World Cup. India's 4-1 series win sounded an emphatic warning to World Cup rivals and in the process also solved a few problems that existed in their own setup.
If there was ever any doubt about the Indian batting before the series, it was whether someone apart from the top three could resurrect the innings from the loss of early wickets. Ambati Rayudu's match-winning knock of 90 in the last ODI has virtually deciphered the No 4 dilemma. Walking in at 12/2 and with the ball hooping around corners, Rayudu proved he is capable of doing the job against a quality bowling line-up. Rayudu also showcased his flexibility by finishing the match in the third ODI with an unbeaten knock of 40. In the second ODI, his knock of 47 laid the platform for the power hitters to cash in at the death.
The fact that in the past 12 months India had lost two wickets in the first 10 overs only on five occasions was the sign of the dominance of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Shikar Dhawan. On placid tracks, the top three are impregnable as they showed during the first three ODIs by scoring 71 percent of team's runs. The absence of Kohli was clearly felt during the fourth and fifth ODIs, but the way Rayudu and the lower order fought back in the last match is bound to give the team enormous confidence.
Overall, India will be delighted by the way Rayudu had taken the responsibility and stamped his authority in playing XI. With still another five matches left before the World Cup, Rayudu will get more chance to further enhance his game and bat in different scenarios.
The other major positive for India has been the form of Mohammed Shami. The right-hand pacer was adjudged Man of the Series for his nine wickets from four matches at an average of 15.33. Shami's probing spells with the new ball ensured Jasprit Bumrah was not missed. It also means that India have three new-ball bowlers to choose from at the World Cup. It was also worth observing that during the death overs, Shami was able to execute his yorkers and deliver slower balls with precision. He managed to take a wicket in his opening spell in each of the four occasions and never went wicketless. With India scheduled to play nine matches in space of four weeks at the World Cup, it means the team management can rotate Shami, Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to balance their workload if need be.
Shami's mighty rise and given India opted to pick Vijay Shankar over Khalil Ahmed in the final match also seems to suggest that there is still one fast-bowling slot that needs to be filled before the World Cup. Hardik Pandya was outstanding with the ball as the third seamer and his brutal knock on in the fifth ODI once again showcased his great value to the team.
Perhaps the most impressive part about the series win was how clinical the team was in the first three matches. Apart from one substantial partnership between Tom Latham and Ross Taylor in the third ODI, the Indian bowlers dominated the Kiwi's batsmen. In four out of five matches India managed to take 10 wickets. There were no individual centuries and neither was there one standout innings in the series, but India still managed to brush the Kiwis aside with relative ease.
Kedar Jadhav also raised his stakes to be a permanent No 6 in the line-up. The diminutive batsman played a couple cameos lower down the order and his ability hit the ball to odd parts of the ground made him a difficult customer to bowl to in the latter overs. Add to that, his low, slinging off-breaks continue to cause headaches for the batsmen. Rohit's endorsement of Jadhav as a "proper spinner" means with Jadhav at No 6 and Pandya at No 7, India have the power-hitters lower in the order to change the dynamics of the game as evident in the second and the fifth ODI.
The humiliation in Hamilton was a rare occurrence and India could have opted for the easier option by bowling first in the final ODI. But as Rohit Sharma revealed at the toss, the team wanted to simulate various match scenarios and see how they stand up in tough circumstances. This series has been about fine-tuning strategies, tactics, composition of the team and testing players in the uncharted waters. The 4-1 win is a strong indicator that India have all bases covered with the World Cup only three months away.