India's win against New Zealand on Republic Day must be the closest to a perfect game that the Indian team has got in a while. The openers laid a solid platform, the rest of the batting line-up ensuring that India would set an asking rate of 6.50 runs an over and bring pressure in to play, the new ball bowlers landing an early blow each and the spinners stifling the home batsmen.
Truth to tell, the deployment and display of arsenal at the team's disposal was in keeping with the show of military might that India unfurled on Rajpath in New Delhi on Republic Day. Each one that was charged with furthering India's cause did his bit and propelled the team to a huge victory over the home side, rated among the best in limited-over internationals.
Shikhar Dhawan's second successive half-century came at a good time for India, before doubts could creep in to his mind if the one-and-a-half-month lay-off between the twenty20 and one-day international series against Australia had allowed rust to set in. The left-hander looked efficient without needing to take undue risks and that augurs well for India.
His partnership with Rohit Sharma at the top of the order is so seasoned now that it is usual to see one of them seem to drop anchor while the other plays the shots. That they raised 150 on the board by the halfway stage gave the others the opportunity to play themselves in and helped India close in on the 325-mark despite the innovations that New Zealand tried with bowling and field placing.
Of course, fans could not be faulted if they expected India to go past the 350-mark. But New Zealand's tactics were challenging the Indian batsmen after Rohit's fall in the 30th over. It was when skipper Virat Kohli and Ambati Rayudu were at the crease that New Zealand clawed back with a spirited effort.
With Kohli falling to a bouncer after a 64-run stand with Rayudu, the stage was set for MS Dhoni to show that he could still script a breezy knock. His unbroken 53-run stand in under five overs with Kedar Jadhav left none in doubt about not only his hunger for runs but also his continued utility to the side. The two unbeaten batsmen complemented one another admirably.
If indeed the Indian batsmen can come to the party like they did at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui, Kohli's side can wear that formidable look. And, if they can do this even on tracks that assist the bowlers even somewhat with either bounce or lateral movement, India could well be the side to beat in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England and Wales.
Of course, India is still finding the best fit for the middle-order. It has to pick two or three batsmen from among Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Jadhav and Rayudu. With Dhoni striking form to back his experience as he gets ready for his fourth World Cup tournament, Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri have been left with the task of picking one middle-order batsman.
To be honest, their task was made somewhat easy by the absence of the world's best white-ball bowler Jasprit Bumrah. It let them pick both wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal among the four specialist bowlers in the squad. By bowling nagging lengths, they made the cobwebs in the New Zealand batsmen's minds work in their favour.
There is the small matter of not letting complacency sneak into the dressing room over the next few weeks. On the evidence of the Indian teams' showing, Kohli and Shastri have done a good fist of ensuring that the players do not take their places in the squad for granted. They got to sample a bit of that when Doug Bracewell put the spin twins to the sword.
The show of character by the spinners was more evidence of the heart with which the two of them ply their trade. Kuldeep Yadav's four-wicket haul on Saturday confirms that he is the team's premier spinner in this format. The fearlessness with which he bowls each time will be a joy to watch for his captain.
The spin twins' ability to cause damage even on a flat track could nudge the think-tank to consider pairing them up on all pitches, except perhaps the grassiest ones. With Hardik Pandya likely to provide a reliable third seamer option to the captain, the punishment that Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami were subjected to on Saturday can play a role in deciding the weapons to deploy.
It must be a worrying factor for rival teams that this Indian team, formidable as it looks in all conditions, has room for improvement. Despite engineering a close to perfect game, Kohli and his team will know that they can raise the bar higher. And, from an Indian standpoint, that must be one of the best things to emerge from the game in Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui.
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