Nearly a decade has passed since India were last bowled out for less than 100 runs in ODI cricket. In 2010, against New Zealand at Dambulla, the Men in Blue scored only 88 runs.
That it happened only once in this nine-year period, despite the introduction of two new balls in ODI cricket, highlights India's batting might. For starters, this period coincides with the rise of Virat Kohli who has dominated the 50-overs' format like only Sachin Tendulkar before him. Additionally, since 2013, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have evolved into all-conquering opening pairing.
In the past two years, this trio has scored nearly 60 per cent of India's ODI runs, which is a staggering proportion to say the least. Add MS Dhoni's reliability to this equation, and the Men in Blue rely on this foursome as far as batting is concerned. With Kohli and Dhoni missing, and the openers failing, was it any surprise that India were rolled out for 92 runs in the 3rd ODI and lost within 46 overs.
So, when was the last time these four didn't contribute anything, and yet India managed to win? Actually, they didn't win, but didn't lose either. The match was tied.
It happed in September 2018, against Afghanistan in the Asia Cup, when they posted 252-8. Kohli was rested for that tournament, Rohit and Dhawan were rested for that game, and Dhoni, who was leading once more, scored 8 runs. India rode on KL Rahul's 60, Ambati Rayudu's 57, Dinesh Karthik's 44 and Ravindra Jadeja's 25 to match the score. It was a dramatic game.
In the past two years, there aren't many instances where the awesome foursome of Indian batting have completely gone missing or are absent from the game itself. In a way, it outlines the dependency on them. The other way to look at it is from the others' point of view - they have simply failed to make much of an impression.
As the 2019 World Cup draws closer, it has to be a worry for the Indian team management. Surely they know that onus of performing during that big tournament is on the likes of Kohli, Dhawan, Rohit and Dhoni. But the remaining batsmen need to chip in too, and whether their contributions have been sizeable enough recently is debatable.
It is why the Hamilton ODI was an opportunity missed for the likes of Rayudu and Karthik, especially as they are still fighting for World Cup spots. It isn't to say that they will be discarded as yet, but every opportunity within the remaining six ODIs matters. With Rishabh Pant doing wonders against England Lions, there will be further permutations and combinations in the playing eleven starting with the fifth ODI in Wellington. And it starts with Dhoni returning to the Indian team as he has regained full fitness.
With the World Cup in sights, Shubman Gill should make way for him with both Rayudu and Karthik retained in the line-up. The youngster has very little chance of entertaining World Cup thoughts, even if he is a future bet. But the team management can sometimes make odd decisions, and Karthik at least will be hoping that Sunday isn't one of those inexplicable instances.
India also need to be at full strength because they had shrugged off the Hamilton loss as a one-off. It wasn't even considered a blip in form because the batting had proven to be so consistent in the previous six ODIs against Australia and New Zealand. But as this last overseas ODI before the World Cup approaches, the Indian team will want to flex its batting muscles properly.
Additionally, it remains to be seen what changes could be rung in the bowling attack. The loss in Hamilton means coach Ravi Shastri would want to go out all guns blazing. Aiming for a 4-1 scoreline would mean bad news for Ravindra Jadeja as the two wrist spinners are the core of India's attack. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is looking in fine rhythm now, so it is a wonder if he will be rested before the three back-to-back T20s. It is a bit improbable that India would field both Khaleel Ahmed and Mohammed Siraj, but stranger things have happened in the past.
New Zealand had an injury worry on Saturday, after Martin Guptill suffered a back injury during training at the Basin Reserve. He could miss out on Sunday and his participation in the T20I series is also under doubt. Colin Munro has been recalled to the ODI squad, but it is anybody's guess if the out-of-form opener will be given another go. If not, Tom Latham could move up the order and open with Henry Nicholls.
The two teams have met thrice at the Westpac Stadium, and share the spoils 1-1, with their game during the 2009 tour here rained off.