The Kiwis could exploit technical shortcomings of the visitors
The sun shone bright on the Eden Park when the Indians practised. Although Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men would be familiar with such weather, they must be feeling the heat.
New Zealand, leading 2-0, is within a victory of taking a winning lead in the five-match series. If that happens, it would shut India’s chances of retaining the No. 1 spot on this tour.
Saturday’s duel here would be about handling pressure. The Indians need to banish negative thoughts to stay in the hunt.
And New Zealand has to continue with the flow and the momentum to close out the series. Being so close to a triumph against an adversary that began the series as the top-ranked ODI side can create its own stress.
The drop-in pitch at the Eden Park is likely to assist the pacemen. Locals say the surface would be lively and encourage seam movement. This will not make India’s task any easier.
There was an injury concern too for the Indians after Suresh Raina was struck a painful blow under his elbow by Mohammed Shami at the nets. The left-hander, his arm in a plaster, subsequently left for a scan. The scan revealed soft tissue damage. The team will take a call on Raina’s fitness on the morning of the match.
Quite simply, the different arms of the Indian team have not functioned in cohesion.
A look at the numbers so far tells the story. The batting has been overly dependent on Virat Kohli. The irrepressible right-hander has 201 runs in two matches at 100.50 (strike-rate 114.20).
Dhoni has 96 runs at a strike-rate of 106.66. The next highest aggregate by an Indian is Raina with 53. Apart from Kohli and Dhoni none has impacted a contest.
India has run into problems with the pacing of the innings at the start and lost wickets at critical junctures. The resistance from the lower order has been non-existent.
The side has to change its opening combination. Perhaps, Ajinkya Rahane could be promoted. Ambati Rayudu should be inducted in the middle-order.
If the side wants a hard-hitting batsman who can bowl a few overs of medium pace, Stuart Binny is an option.
Shami has scalped seven at 15.71 with gutsy bowling and Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been steady. They have bowled effective yorkers in the end overs.
Ishant, who appears to have forgotten what a yorker is, has to make way for Varun Aaron.
The Eden Park is a small ground with short, straight boundaries. Should India continue with two spinners on a paceman friendly pitch?
Again, it is not as much about the surface as how well the spinners bowl against a side that has not always handled this form of bowling capably. India can try out Amit Mishra; a leg-spinner is often a wicket-taking bowler.
India seeks wickets in the middle-overs — it should deny easy singles — to put this Kiwi line-up from exploding at the finish.
New Zealand is almost certain to play fast bowler Hamish Bennett for either paceman Kyle Mills or off-spinner Nathan McCullum.
The Anderson factor
Despite the solidity of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, it is the incredible Corey Anderson who has made a winning difference. This marauder has 112 runs at an astonishing strike rate of 196.49; runs that have deflated India.
How does India stop such a brutal striker of the ball? Toe-crushers would certainly help. The Indians also have to mix their length cleverly at the start of his innings.
Off-spinner R. Ashwin has to bowl at this 23-year-old southpaw from Canterbury with an attacking mind-set rather than a defensive one.
For the Kiwis, Mitchell McClenaghan & Co. will bounce at the Indians as they seek to exploit technical shortcomings.
The squad (from):
India: M.S. Dhoni (capt.), S. Dhawan, R. Sharma, V. Kohli, S. Raina, A. Rahane, R. Jadeja, R. Ashwin, M. Shami, I. Sharma, B. Kumar, V. Aaron, S. Binny, A. Rayudu, I. Pandey, A. Mishra.
New Zealand: B. McCullum (capt.), M. Guptill, J. Ryder, R. Taylor, K. Williamson, L. Ronchi, C. Anderson, N. McCullum, M. McClenaghan, T. Southee, H. Bennett, J. Neesham, K. Mills.
Umpires: R. Tucker & B. Bowden; Third umpire: D. Walker; Match-referee: D. Boon.
Play starts at 6.30 a.m. (IST).