Eden Park, Auckland
January 24, Friday; 12:20 IST
The main picture
Former New Zealand batsman and batting coach, Craig McMillan, has said India, under Virat Kohli, are a “powerhouse” coming into the tour that gets underway on Friday. Such exaggerated comments about the visiting team aren’t uncommon—they are, at times, meant to distract them from the job in hand—but India now are operating at a level above New Zealand. Since losing the 2019 World Cup final on boundary count, the Blackcaps have had an up-and-down six months culminating in the 3-0 Test series loss to Australia Down Under. However, facing a full-strength, in-form Indian side in home conditions should reinvigorate Kane Williamson and co., who also have the best head-to-head record in T20Is against India.
Williamson returns to captain the New Zealand T20 side after missing the series against Sri Lanka (away) and England last year, and it’s not his favourite format. He hasn’t played any of the Super Smash T20 fixtures either, between the conclusion of the Australia tour and the start of the series against India, so Williamson himself could be rusty to begin with.
Among other concerns for New Zealand is the productivity of the opening partnership between Martin Guptill and Colin Munro, who had a below-par 2019 on a collective and on an individual level: together, they registered only two fifty-plus stands in seven T20I innings. Overall, the battle between New Zealand’s top order and India’s all-weather bowling attack led by Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, who are complemented by the full variety of spin (leg-break, off-break and chinaman), could be the key to the result of this series.
Where New Zealand are better than India is with their all-rounder options. Colin de Grandhomme, Scott Kuggeleijn and Daryl Mitchell are the three seam-bowling all-rounders, with left-arm orthodox spinner Mitchell Santner the fourth and among the likely to feature in the playing XI. No matter who among the quartet play, they don’t just lend balance but also firepower and depth to the batting line-up, with Santner potentially batting as low as No. 8. With these options, New Zealand could hurt India with the bat, through the middle overs and in the final quarter of the innings.
A year after their emphatic ODI series win and a 2-1 T20I series defeat in New Zealand, India have returned a more formidable outfit. Captain Virat Kohli, who was rested for the final two ODIs and the three-match T20I series last year, will lead the side across the three formats, while KL Rahul is enjoying arguably his purplest patch as an international cricketer. Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur add variety to the fast-bowling department, while spinners Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Washington Sundar could be rotated during the five-match T20I series.
The shoulder injury to Shikhar Dhawan means the Indian think-tank doesn’t have a tough decision to make as to who (among Dhawan and Rahul) partners Rohit Sharma. Kohli will slot in at No. 3—unlike at No. 6, where he batted in the final T20I against Sri Lanka—while Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, who has recovered from concussion, will bat at Nos. 4, 5 and 6. Ravindra Jadeja or Shivam Dube will take up the all-rounder’s spot.
India have, in the past, struggled in T20 cricket against New Zealand. And, while current form and feel-good factor count for little in this format, they now have ammunition and a better clarity about their own game to be successful this time round.
Eden Park Auckland pitch report and weather forecast
Eden Park in Auckland is one of the New Zealand venues which is neither oval nor circular, the usual shape of a cricket ground. The length of the straight boundaries are around 50 metres, while the square boundaries are a little longer at close to 70m. Being a multi-sport venue, where rugby and football are also played, Eden Park uses a drop-in pitch. Drop-in pitches are rock-hard and, therefore, offer good carry while the pace is often true. The venue will host the first two T20 Internationals of the series and you can expect the pitch to be batsmen-friendly, while the bowlers must vary their pace to keep the batsmen in check.
The weather forecast says that Friday will be clear to partly cloudy with the temperature in the evening, when the match gets underway, a pleasant 18 degree Celsius.
India vs New Zealand 1st T20 playing 11
Possible New Zealand playing 11: 1 Kane Williamson (c), 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Colin Munro, 4 Tim Seifert (wk), 5 Ross Taylor, 6 Colin de Grandhomme, 7 Daryl Mitchell, 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Scott Kuggeleijn, 11 Ish Sodhi
Possible India playing 11: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 KL Rahul, 3 Rohit Sharma, 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 Manish Pandey, 6 Rishabh Pant (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Washington Sundar, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Navdeep Saini
India vs New Zealand 1st T20I telecast channel
The first T20 International between India and New Zealand will be telecast on the Star Sports network and streamed live on Hotstar. The match can also be viewed on DD National.