India finds itself immersed in the festive season at the moment, having celebrated Karva Chauth on Wednesday, and the week-long Diwali festivities coming up next week.
The MS Dhoni-led ODI cricket team would like to do their best to add to the festive cheer, giving the billion-plus fans another reason to celebrate, when they take on New Zealand at the Feroze Shah Kotla in New Delhi on Thursday.
Momentum is clearly in the hosts' favour, having whitewashed the Kiwis in the three-Test series before producing another clinical all-round performance in the first ODI to win by six wickets.
The important aspect in those results is the toss: The Kiwis have lost every single toss in the series thus far, and if captain Kane Williamson doesn't manage to call it right on Thursday, the match could well be over as a contest even before it officially starts.
The October weather promises plenty of dew in the evening, and Dhoni, if he wins the toss, is likely to opt to field first again. It could well be a death knell for the hapless and luckless New Zealanders.
The only team news coming from India's camp is that Suresh Raina has failed to clear a fitness test and is yet to recover from a bout of viral fever. This despite him walking to the nets on Tuesday for a session.
That should bring a smile on Kedar Jadhav's face, for the Maharashtra batsman is set to keep his place in the side as a handy all-rounder. Jadhav didn't have much opportunity with the bat on Sunday, coming in at No 6 with India just 29 runs adrift of victory. It was rather his off-spin that did the trick, picking up wickets off two successive deliveries, sending Jimmy Neesham and Mitchell Santner back.
Hardik Pandya shone on his ODI debut at Dharamsala with an economical three-wicket haul, and Dhoni hinted at utilising him with the new ball in the remaining 50-over games before the Champions Trophy in June. Umesh Yadav should share the new ball with Pandya, with Jasprit Bumrah coming in first change.
The Feroz Shah Kotla pitch is expected to be slower and more spin-friendly than Dharamsala, and the Amit Mishra-led spin attack will have a more prominent role to play. The spinners grabbed five wickets in the series opener despite the conditions not assisting them. If the visiting batsman hadn't suffered enough nightmares of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja already, they now have another headache to deal with.
Local lad Virat Kohli will hope to lead another successful chase, after his unbeaten 85 helped India gain a 1-0 lead in the five-match series. Ajinkya Rahane didn't get a big score on Sunday, and will look to do so in Delhi, thereby cementing his place as an opener. The knowledge that the injured KL Rahul or Shikhar Dhawan could take his place alongside Rohit Sharma atop the order will be playing on Rahane's mind.
When the World Cup runners-up landed in India last month, the limelight was heavily focused on skipper Kane Williamson. However, he has failed to help the team's cause despite his world-class batting skills and ability to play spin better than his teammates. Instead, it has been a Tom Latham show so far. The left-handed opener has hit a 50-plus score in every match so far in the tour, carrying the bat in the lost battle on Sunday. The 24-year-old will hope to go one further on Sunday, on a track that promises a lot of runs, and get only his second three-figure mark in 50-over cricket.
To do that, he will need better support from the rest of the batting order, not just the tail. Tim Southee bailed out the Kiwis on Sunday, hitting a quickfire 55 while stitching together a 71-run ninth wicket stand with Latham. New Zealand will hope it's not down to him to rescue them again on Thursday.
Barring a lone 72 at Indore, Martin Guptill's performances at the top of the order have been consistently bad for quite some time now. He is unlikely to be dropped from the playing XI, especially considering Anton Devich is still very much an untested name. But if performances don't improve, he does risk being benched in future tournaments. Getting a big score in Delhi would be one of the ways for him to make amends.
Luke Ronchi, who played as a batsman in the Tests before taking over as wicketkeeper from BJ Watling for the ODIs, hit a century at this venue in the three-day warm-up match against Mumbai last month. He will certainly like an encore. As will Corey Anderson, whose return to the side after recovering from a back injury wasn't quite pleasant, getting dismissed for a meagre 4.
In the bowling department, Trent Boult and Matt Henry will be eager to wear black after sharing the new ball in the Test series. However, given the slowness of the pitch in the upcoming game, only one of them is expected to make it into the team, with Williamson likely to persist with two spinners in Santner and Ish Sodhi.
It's been a nightmarish tour for the Kiwis thus far, but Dhoni and Co cannot afford any complacency and experimentation, even if everything seems to be going their way at the moment. A 2-0 series lead is what most punters will be putting their money on ahead of the game. A levelling effort from the Kiwis, however, will certainly make things a little more interesting in what has been a one-sided tour so far.
India likely XI: Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni (c,wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Amit Mishra, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav.
New Zealand likely XI: Tom Latham, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi (wk), Jimmy Neesham, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Trent Boult/Matt Henry.
Time: 13:30 IST
Updated Date: Oct 20, 2016 10:05 AM