ICC World Twenty20 2016: New Zealand Will Provide A Litmus Test of India’s Title Credentials

ICC World T20 2016
Jamtha Stadium, Nagpur, will host India’s first group game against New Zealand
Image source: ESPNcricinfo

New Zealand are one of the teams in Group 2, which is arguably the ‘Group of Death‘. ICC World T20 2016’s hosts India face the Blackcaps in their very first group game next Tuesday, with Jamtha Stadium in Nagpur staging this pivotal game from the entire tournament’s perspective. The Men in Blue have been in absolutely imperious form so far in 2016, losing just one of the 11 Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) they have played.

The world T20, however, will be a different proposition for MS Dhoni’s devils, who hence have to take their game to another level. In New Zealand, they face a side that simply won’t make things any easy for them. Taking a closer look at Kane Williamson and company, why are they the toughest group 2 opponent for India?

India have a woeful record against the Blackcaps, who have won all four T20Is played against the Men in Blue till date. India have tended to look a different side when playing against New Zealand compared to other T20I teams. No other side has made them look as ordinary as the Blackcaps have, with their first victory over India coming at Johannesburg in the world T20 2007. You can expect India to be mindful of their head-to-head record in T20Is against New Zealand, who would want to take advantage of any psychological pressure the hosts exude.

Looking beyond statistics, however, Williamson and co. are a side to be feared in the world T20 2016. Their 15-man squad has a wonderful blend of youth, experience and T20 specialists. Regardless of the XI who play at Nagpur on Tuesday, you can expect it to be balanced and full of ammunition in the batting and bowling departments. That is also why it is hard to overlook them as a potential contender for the title. The conditions are probably going to be against them, but they have been proactive and added a reliable spin trio – of Ish Sodhi, Nathan McCullum and Mitchell Santner – to their squad.

All their crucial players – Corey Anderson, Tim Southee, N McCullum, Trent Boult, Mitchell MCclenaghan¬†and Ross Taylor – have experience of playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) too, and India may not have the kind of advantage they are usually expected to have as the home side. New Zealand’s batting lineup will be really long, while the bowling attack is expected to have plenty of variety to it as well.

If you take a closer look at New Zealand’s probable batting lineup, the likes of Williamson, Taylor and Martin Guptill are good players of spin and India’s trump cards in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will have their tasks cut out. Ashwin has been sensational in all formats over the last 18 months, but bowling against the New Zealand batsmen will be a different challenge for him compared to the opponents he has bowled against during India’s preparatory tournaments in the build-up to the world T20 2016.

Deviating slightly away from New Zealand, Australia and Pakistan, the other two big names in Group 2, do not quite possess the same strength.

Australia, yes, will come into this biennial tournament on the back of an impressive 1-2 series victory against South Africa, where their batsmen delivered the goods. David Warner and Glenn Maxwell helped their side chase down 205 in the second T20I at the Wanderers, providing a huge lift in confidence after their 0-3 demolition at the hands of India back in January.

Australia’s bowling in particular, looks brittle due to the absences of Mitchell Starc, who is out with an ankle injury, and Mitchell Johnson, who retired from international cricket at the beginning of last Australian summer. The aforementioned duo played starring roles with the ball and were pivotal in Australia winning the ICC Cricket World Cup at home this time last year. From India’s perspective, Australia would not concern me as much as New Zealand does. Pakistan, winners of the world T20 2009 in England, would not faze me either.

The reason for that is also the timing of the games. New Zealand are India’s very first opponents at the world T20, with Australia playing them only on the 27th of March, in India’s last group game. With four games to play and three wins to qualify for the semifinals, depending on what happens in the other games in the group, India might feel the pressure of playing New Zealand first up and not a slightly weak outfit as Pakistan or one among Bangladesh, Ireland, Netherlands, or Oman, who will join them at the end of the ongoing qualifiers.

Summary

There is no doubt, whatsoever, that India are favourites for the title, even though the tournament has yet to get underway. However, playing New Zealand, a well-balanced outfit like they are, at the very beginning is going to be a massive test for India. And given their win-less record in four T20Is against the Blackcaps, Dhoni’s devils have to overcome a lot of factors in order to beat Williamson and company on Tuesday.

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