Middle-order concerns weigh on weary NZ

Match facts

Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Start time 1330 local (0800 GMT)

Ross Taylor will have to contend with patchy form, off-field distractions and the memory of a costly spill when he takes the field in Ranchi © AFP

Big picture

At the start of the series, India had eight ODIs – five against New Zealand and three against England – to get their combination right before the Champions Trophy next year. Of equally high priority was the need to strengthen their limited-overs game – aside from whitewashing Zimbabwe twice, India haven’t won a bilateral series since November 2014.

India have the opportunity to accomplish both objectives against a weary New Zealand, who have been away from home for more than a month and are desperate for success in at least one leg of the tour. The visitors, however, are yet to repair a flimsy middle order, which has squandered good starts in all three ODIs so far. Corey Anderson’s comeback has yielded only 31 runs, while Luke Ronchi, who counterattacked admirably in the Tests, averages a mere 2.33.

India’s team management, on the other hand, will be happy with what they have achieved. For one, the bowling unit has exceeded expectations. While Jasprit Bumrah has been reliable as ever, Umesh Yadav has improved his accuracy without sacrificing pace. Amit Mishra has enjoyed leading a young spin attack, and along with Axar Patel, whose wicket tally has not been commensurate with his persistence, he has ensured India have not missed R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

The biggest revelations, though, have been Hardik Pandya’s ability with the new ball and part-timer Kedar Jadhav’s knack for breaking partnerships. With Virat Kohli casually gunning down chases, the rest of the batting has been tested only once, in Delhi, when no one made good on their start. India will hope the likes of Manish Pandey and Jadhav get to spend more time in the middle in the next two ODIs.

The selectors have stressed on continuity by retaining the same squad – minus Suresh Raina, who is still recovering from illness – for the remaining two games. While India will want to give the players on the bench – Mandeep Singh, Jayant Yadav and Dhawal Kulkarni – an opportunity at some point over the next two games, they will also seek to ensure some of the newer players who are already in the XI get an extended run.

Form guide

India WLWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand LWLWL

In the spotlight

In the absence of the injured Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul, this was Ajinkya Rahane‘s best chance to show why he deserved to open in ODIs ahead of them. But, Rahane failed to convert two starts before being dismissed in the third over in Mohali. Time may be running out for him, with the team management also probably keen to have a look at the uncapped Mandeep Singh in the opening slot.

Ross Taylor has been in the news both on and off the field in the last few days. In Mohali, he took an encouraging step forward as a batsman before Mishra’s drift and turn ended his resilience. In the chase, though, Taylor dropped Kohli on 6, only to see him add another 148 to his score and steer India to victory. On-field challenges aside, Taylor will also have to block out the noise accompanying Brendon McCullum’s stormy remarks about his captaincy tenure.

Kedar Jadhav has taken to bowling in international cricket really well © Associated Press

Team news

India had an optional training session, with Mandeep and Pandey taking first strike against Kulkarni, Pandya and Jayant. Going by the practice session, it would seem Jayant, Kulkarni and Mandeep stand a chance to play, but the proceedings in the nets aren’t always a reliable indicator.

India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Ajinkya Rahane/Mandeep Singh, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Manish Pandey, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Axar Patel/Jayant Yadav, 9 Amit Mishra, 10 Umesh Yadav/Dhawal Kulkarni, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

BJ Watling had a long hit towards the end of New Zealand’s training. If they play him instead of Ronchi, there might be a case for slotting him at No. 5 and Anderson at No. 6, with the latter’s brief narrowed down to attacking the bowling from the start.

New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Tom Latham, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 BJ Watling/Luke Ronchi (wk), 6 Corey Anderson, 7 James Neesham/Anton Devcich, 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Matt Henry

Pitch and conditions

New Zealand opener Tom Latham insisted the Ranchi pitch was different from the one in Mohali. He said it was bare and devoid of grass. This could mean it might offer some turn.

Stats and trivia

  • Tom Latham has scored fifties in five of the six international matches (three Tests and three ODIs) he has played on this tour. It’s the most by any batsman on either side
  • New Zealand have added 50-plus runs for the ninth wicket three times in eight ODI innings in 2016. Two of those partnerships have come in this series
  • Kohli’s last two ODI innings in Ranchi have been match-winning efforts in chases. He scored 139* against Sri Lanka in November 2014 and 77* versus England in January 2013

Quotes

“We had a good debrief after the game [in Mohali]. There are a few areas we want to work on. Every game is important, but this one probably is a little more important to keep the series alive.”
New Zealand fast bowler Matt Henry highlights the importance of the fourth ODI

“In the past I have tried to play out of my skin, getting overexcited, but I’ve realised if I can time the ball, and hit the gaps and run hard, I can still get runs. I know teams want to get me out immediately, so I take my time, go with the flow and then attack at the end.”
Virat Kohli on succeeding by playing percentage cricket

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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