NAPIER: When Australia were the dominant ODI team not so long ago, the only competition in the rankings would be for the second spot. The current rankings present a far tighter picture: England are a cut above New Zealand and India, but these teams have so little distance separating them it’s suffocating. New Zealand are ranked third and trail second-placed India by eight rating points and could overtake them by going a step further than the 4-0 thrashing they inflicted in 2014.
The contests are close even when comparing the two line-ups that will face off in this series. India’s top three comfortably edges New Zealand’s, as it does with most other teams, averaging in excess of 64 since the Champions Trophy. But here they will be up against a masterful swing bowling pair of Trent Boult and Tim Southee. The hosts’ middle order has a more settled countenance, with Nos. 4 to 7 averaging over 47 with five hundreds as opposed to India’s 34 with one hundred in the same period.
That middle order will be further bolstered by the return of Tom Latham, whose proficiency at tackling spin could prove pivotal, especially should India opt to field their most potent weapon: a pair of wily wrist spinners who already have more five-wicket hauls between them in South Africa, England and Australia than Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja combined in ODIs.
Incidentally, during New Zealand’s three-match ODI series against India in 2017, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal only featured together in the first ODI in Mumbai. The command with which their threat was blunted by Ross Taylor and Latham pushed India on the defensive, leading to the omission of Kuldeep from the next two ODIs.
Their inclusion is an irresistible proposition, a fact corroborated by Virat Kohli post the series win in Melbourne. It would perhaps eventually hinge on the confidence the team management has in allrounder Vijay Shankar’s bowling abilities.
A five-match ODI series tends to lose context mid-way, especially if it proves one-sided, but these two can potentially produce cricket of a calibre so high that it might leave one longing for more.