New Zealand v India: How will visitors solve their middle-order conundrum with Pandya deemed unfit
India will play five T20 Internationals, three ODIs and two Test matches starting with the shortest format on January 24
India might have won the One Day International (ODI) series against Australia 2-1, but the short series did expose a few problems for the Men In Blue. With all-rounder Hardik Pandya, who recently failed a fitness test, set to miss out on India's tour of New Zealand, there seems to be a lack of depth in the middle for the Virat Kohli-led team India.
In Rajkot, KL Rahul took up the role of the finisher with a scintillating knock that had many experts believe he is India's short-term solution for the middle-order problem as the likes of Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pander find their touch. But an injury to Shikhar Dhawan means Rahul will be expected to once again open the innings with Rohit Sharma.
The 34-year-old Dhawan has been having a forgetful few seasons with injuries marring his progress. Dhawan missed the entire limited overs series against West Indies last month. He also did not take the field for the entire duration of the Australian innings in the second ODI after a Pat Cummins bouncer hit him on the rib cage while batting.
He also had to pull out of the 2019 World Cup due to a fractured thumb, an injury he suffered against Australia. In the same game, he had scored a match-winning hundred.
What happened to Pandya?
According to multiple reports, Pandya is not ready for international cricket and will have to play at least one domestic game for Baroda before being considered for a national comeback. India's next assignment after the New Zealand series will be three ODIs against South Africa at home in March which is what the all-rounder, who recently go engaged, is focusing on.
Pandya recently flunked the bowling workload monitoring test, which is one of the mandatory requirements after coming back from a back surgery. The 26-year-old Baroda cricketer had recently claimed that he would be fit for the second half of the New Zealand series but sources in the BCCI claim that it was the cricketer's individual assessment and not that of the management's.
Pandya's fitness is very important for India's T20 World Cup campaign as his fast medium bowling and explosive hitting power gives India the required balance. He last played for India in September, 2018. If Iyer and Pandey can find a bit of confidence on the pitch then India won't have to sweat a lot during the New Zealand tour. But in Jadeja, they have an all-rounder who might not be able to offer a lot in conditions that aid fast-bowling. The spinner was effective in the ODIs but India are likely to play with an extra pacer on the swinging pitches in New Zealand.
Rahul the solution
As seen in the Australia ODIs, the balance might come from Rahul's ability to keep. Sanju Samson and Prithvi Shaw -- Dhawan's replacement in the T20 and ODI squads respectively -- can both keep as well but Kohli might be tempted to play with the extra bowler given the conditions. Shardul Thakur's handy contributions with the bat means Navdeep Saini, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Thakur might lineup for India.
Interestingly, India are taking their main three spinners -- Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja -- for the limited-overs matches as well. Washington Sundar is also part of the T20 squad which means spin might well be an option for the men in blue. It wouldn't be entirely surprising if Jadeja or Sundar gets the nod ahead of the other two wrist spinners in New Zealand. Both Sundar and Jadeja can contribute with the bat and are bowlers who rely on pace variations to restrict the scoring as opposed to Chahal and Kuldeep who are real spinners of the ball.
India will play five T20 Internationals, three ODIs and two Test matches starting with the shortest format on January 24. Head coach Ravi Shastri is confident that his team will do well in the away trip before returning to India for their series against South Africa in March.
"That toss will be taken out of the equation, we will play well irrespective of conditions, of opponents and in every country of the world. That's what our aim is and that is what we are chasing. Yes, the World Cup remains an obsession and we will do all to fulfill that ambition," Shastri said to PTI ahead of the start of India's tour of New Zealand.
T20I squad: Virat Kohli (C), Rohit Sharma (VC), Sanju Samson, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (WK), Shivam Dube, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Navdeep Saini, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur
ODI squad: Virat Kohli (C), Rohit Sharma (VC), Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (WK), Shivam Dube, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, Kedar Jadhav.
(inputs from PTI)