The clock is ticking towards the 2020 ICC World T20 to be held in October this year, and Virat Kohli and Co will once again have their task cut out as their two-month-long stint in New Zealand gets underway with the five-match T20I series, starting with the first at Auckland’s Eden Park on Friday.
While the gulf between the two teams is not that huge in terms of the T20I rankings with India fifth and New Zealand sixth, the Black Caps hold a far more favourable head-to-head record, having won eight out of the 12 matches. India have won thrice with one match ending in no result.
The Men in Blue are coming fresh off an inspired 2-1 comeback victory over Australia in the recently-held ODI series, but losing Shikhar Dhawan to an injury has been a huge blow, ahead of India's tour of New Zealand.
However, this provides an opportunity for the likes of Shreyas Iyer, Shardul Thakur among few others on their debut trip to New Zealand to make a statement and potentially seal berths for the mega event in Australia this year.
While New Zealand’s top-order batting boasts of captain Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill, their bowling department is slightly young when compared to India’s, with Tim Southee, who has played 65 T20Is leading the pack. Ish Sodhi is the only other experienced bowler while Hamish Bennett returns to the senior national set-up after three years.
Ahead of India’s first-ever five-match T20I series, we take a look at potential key battles that could spice up the rivalry:
Rohit Sharma vs Tim Southee
Rohit Sharma hardly ever looks out of touch when it comes to the playing the game’s shortest format, and he will undoubtedly be poised to continue his stupendous form against a largely inexperienced Kiwi bowling attack. Rohit is coming on the back of scoring a match-winning century against Australia in the third ODI, after being rested for the Sri Lanka T20Is earlier this month.
It may seem as a worrying sign from a Kiwi perspective, but only Tim Southee poses a real threat to the Indian batsmen, and will be expected to rattle the strong Indian top-order early on. Thus, testing times are ahead for Southee-led Kiwi bowling attack.
Rohit Sharma led the T20I series against New Zealand on Kiwi soil last year where they lost 2-1 and notably scored a fifty in his last T20I outing in Auckland, which the visitors won by seven wickets.
KL Rahul vs New Zealand
KL Rahul has been in threatening form of late, and his contributions during the recently-concluded Sri Lanka T20Is and Australia ODIs is self-explanatory. It also means that he has peaked at the right time.
He may not have played a single T20I against New Zealand, but his adaptability to certain situations could be a key factor in the upcoming series. As a matter of fact, two T20I centuries and nine fifties plus immense experience in the Indian Premier League (IPL) is no mean feat.
Virat Kohli vs Ish Sodhi
This may come as a surprise, but Virat Kohli will be taking field on Kiwi soil in the game’s shortest format for the very first time. All the five T20Is he has played against the Black Caps have come in India, and he has registered 197 runs at an average of 49.25.
Ish Sodhi, meanwhile has scalped 11 wickets in seven encounters against the Men in Blue, and was in fine touch in the Super Smash T20 tournament, taking 10 wickets, including an impressive 3/12 for Northern Districts against Wellington.
Martin Guptill vs Mohammed Shami
Martin Guptill could be New Zealand’s answer to Rohit Sharma. Although his record against India reads a mere 108 runs in seven T20Is, he can take inspiration from his recent performances in the Super Smash tournament, where he ended up as the second-best run-getter in the tournament with 403 runs, including a couple of fifties.
Mohammed Shami made his return to the India T20 side last December against West Indies where he took a couple of wickets and has continued to impress since, having recently taken seven wickets in the three ODIs against Australia.
Martin Guptill, a big-hitter, will have to be wary of the fiery pacer as this duel promises to be a fascinating contest.
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