In the lead up to their tour of India not many had expected New Zealand to pose much of challenge to the hosts, especially with India coming off a string of imposing performances against Windies, Sri Lanka and Australia after reaching the Champions Trophy 2017 final. But New Zealand, the perennial dark horses, have developed a knack to surprise and charm.
They won the first One-Day International, and after being outclassed in the second game, narrowly fluffed a chance to clinch their maiden silverware in India. Now, at the cusp of the third Twenty20 International in Thiruvananthapuram’s Greenfield International Stadium, they’ve earned themselves another chance to break their duck of never having won a bilateral series on these shores.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma (vice-capt), KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Trent Boult, Tom Bruce, Colin de Grandhomme, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (wk), Henry Nicholls, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Glenn Phillips.
Having won the last game by a comfortable margin of 40 runs, New Zealand will feel like they have the momentum on their side, come the decider on Tuesday (November 7). And their performances so far indicate that they also have the balance in the side to just about topple India over.
Colin Munro led a strong batting performance in Rajkot, scoring 106 not out. Martin Guptill found some form as well, and Tom Bruce was impressive with a cameo. But New Zealand’s main guns have been Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner. The spinners first displayed their fondness for Indian conditions in their team’s shock win over India in the World T20 2016 opener, and have exhibited the same kind of skill to keep the marauding Indian batsmen in check.
Despite all of this, India will still go into the series-decider as the favourites, given their higher pedigree, their home ground advantage, and the fact that they showed the greater mental strength in a similar situation during the ODI series decider, winning by six runs even though New Zealand seemed well on track to chase down their target of 338.
Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni got runs in the previous game, but a rare top order failure rendered their efforts futile. India will want at least one of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, the openers, to put their failures of the second game behind them and kick on to set the platform. Shreyas Iyer looked sublime when he first came to the crease in Rajkot, but was tied down later. India might see sense in persisting with him in the top order.
There have been some questions raised about Dhoni’s form, with the former skipper not managing to get going immediately in a steep chase in the second T20I, but Bhuvneshwar Kumar brushed those concerns aside on match eve. “Nobody is worried, whatsoever,” said Bhuvneshwar. “If you check his records, what he has done for the team is remarkable. He knows he is a legend, whatever he has done for team India is for the benefit of the team, and no one has any doubt about it.”
On the bowling front, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar have been fantastic at the start and at the death. But although economical, they were wicketless in the second T20I and they’ll want to correct that. Yuzvendra Chahal, the legspinner, was good barring one costly over. Axar Patel, the left-arm spinner, was taken to the shredders and India might think of bringing Kuleep Yadav in.
Mohammed Siraj had a forgettable debut in the previous game, but a lack of more fast bowling options in the side means he stands a good chance to retain his spot, although India do have the option of dropping him for a spinner – given that Hardik Pandya is there to lend back-up to Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar.
The sides look set for a thrilling finale to what has been a refreshingly competitive series. The only danger comes from the weather, as rain might play spoilsport. The weather forecast is somewhat gloomy and there might be brief interruptions. Given how well both sides have competed, and the spirit in which the entire series has been played, the tour deserves a full-length finale, and both fans and players alike will be hoping the rain gods stay away from this encounter.