Cricket: Now for the real test

By David Leggat

The Windies were easy, but India are a tougher challenge and our cricketers will find out how good they really are.

India's batsman Rohit Sharma. Photo / AP
India's batsman Rohit Sharma. Photo / AP

New Zealand are about to discover where they rate in world cricket.

Leave aside the international rankings, which have India No 1 in ODIs, No 2 in tests, and New Zealand No 8 in both. That alone gives an indication of the gulf that exists between the countries in terms of hard achievement.

What it doesn't say is how far apart the teams are right now in pure cricket playing ability.

From tomorrow, the next 31 days will give New Zealand a clear idea of where they are in comparison with some of the game's finest players.

They will know the challenge that faces them is more substantial than that presented by the West Indies.

New Zealand were far superior in the test series, split an ODI series they are ruing having let slip into a 2-2 draw, and cleaned up in the T20s against a side without several of their leading short form players.

India are at full strength, although there might be a quibble over the absence of burly veteran allrounder Yuvraj Singh, a batsman with damaging ability but out of sorts.

The batsmen, led by the brilliant Virat Kohli - who looks every bit a captain in waiting for when MS Dhoni finally steps aside - are fast-scoring, dazzling shotmakers.

But New Zealand will have taken some hope from their last overseas foray, to South Africa last month, when they were cleaned out in the two ODIs and lost the test rubber 1-0.

The batsmen, so used to easy conditions at home, were undone on pitches with which they were unfamiliar.

But New Zealand will also fancy their chances against India's bowlers.

The tourists have brought five fast-medium bowlers and three spinners - a legspinner, an offspinner and a left armer - plus medium pace allrounder Stuart Binny. All bases seem covered.

Rarely does a Dhoni press conference these days pass without a reference to his contention that bowlers are being run out of the ODI game. Certainly his troops have taken some fearful stick in recent months.

Since October 30, 2012, only four fielders, instead of the previous five, have been allowed outside the 30-yard circle in non-powerplay overs. Captains have been tearing their hair out, bowlers have been looking for a couch in a cool, dark room.

In India's recent home series against Australia, the visitors passed 300 in five out of six innings.

India's batsmen got them out of more than one hole, but New Zealand will have taken note.

"I think [the rules are] something that we need to sit and think about, if 350 is the new 280 or 290 or 300," Dhoni said late last year.

"Most of the bowlers are getting smashed with the extra fielder inside.

"A few of them feel it would be better off to put a bowling machine there."

That might be handy tomorrow. McLean Park can become a shooting gallery, if the pitch is up to its usual standard - that is, a total belter, the sort of road on which batsmen figure they've missed out if they don't make at least 50.

Adam Milne's education will take another step in this series, after his eye-catching performances during the two T20s against the West Indies.

The same is true for medium pacers Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham, who have important support roles.

Waywardness of the sort shown against the West Indies will be unacceptable. Neesham had 16 wides in his four games; Anderson and Mitchell McClenaghan also had bad days.

India's visit is an exciting opportunity for the New Zealand team. And in ODI terms, if they fancy they're better than eighth in the world, there's no better chance to prove it.


NZ v India, first ODI

McLean Park, Napier, 2pm tomorrow

New Zealand: (from) Brendon McCullum (c), Jesse Ryder, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi, Nathan McCullum, Jimmy Neesham, Tim Southee, Kyle Mills, Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne.

India: (from) MS Dhoni (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravi Jadeja, Stuart Binny, Ravi Ashwin, Ambati Rayudu, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishwar Pandey, Amit Mishra, Mohammed Shami, Varun Aaron.

Pitch/forecast

A cracker, on both counts. Predicted to be 25°C and fine. McLean Park is the country's best batting pitch, with short square boundaries a temptation for those batsmen strong square of the pitch. A first innings score of 300 is usually regarded as a must.

Key players

New Zealand - Jesse Ryder. Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor have ordinary ODI averages against the Indians. Ryder is going at 45. Plus big, early runs against India won't hurt his bid to regain his test spot in a couple of weeks.

India - Virat Kohli. His record, with an average of 51.54 and 17 ODI tons, speaks for itself. He'll want to impose himself from the start on his first visit. Statistic: 2. Number of wins by India over New Zealand in Napier, out of five matches.

- NZ Herald

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