Niall Anderson in Napier
The Black Caps face their biggest challenge before the Cricket World Cup when their five-match ODI series against India gets under way at McLean Park in Napier today.
Sure, Sri Lanka had their moments, and Thisara Perera briefly turned into the greatest hitter cricket has seen, but they never looked like winning the series, and India are a significant class above. Yet, victory is by no means out of the question for the Black Caps - just consider these eight easy steps to a series win:
1 Dismiss the greatest ODI batsman of all time cheaply
Virat Kohli averages 72 against New Zealand in one-day cricket. Since 2016, he averages 91 against all opposition. Since 2018, he averages 113. His overall record - an average of 59 at a strike rate of 92.7 with 39 centuries - is unmatched in ODI history. However, he passed 50 only once in three tries against Australia this month. So clearly he's in terrible form ... An easy scalp to claim.
2 Dismiss several other all-time greats with no drama
You've just dismissed the GOAT. Now, there's only the minor problem of getting rid of Rohit Sharma (ODI average of 48 at a strike rate of 89), MS Dhoni (51 at 88) and Shikhar Dhawan (45 at 94). Three batsmen with a combined 22,995 ODI runs and 47 centuries. Hmm. Well at least the Black Caps can ...
3 Put pressure on the lesser-known batsmen
The average New Zealand cricket fan probably doesn't know much about Kedar Jadhav and Ambati Rayudu, so they mustn't be much chop, right? Definitely the weak links of the Indian batting lineup, the pair average only 45 and 49 respectively in a combined 96 ODIs. Well then. Perhaps the New Zealand bowlers can instead ...
4 Take advantage of the rookie
Oh, what's that? Shubman Gill is the next Sachin Tendulkar? The 19-year-old was the player of the tournament at the Under-19 World Cup, and averages a mere 77.8 in first-class cricket. But, he's never had to deal with the sunstrike at McLean Park, has he now? And anyway, even if India bat well, the Black Caps can always ...
5 Get off to a fast start with the bat
The last eight ODI opening partnerships against India: 19, 36, 25, 20, 1, 8, 20, 8. New Zealand's last 11 ODI opening partnerships: 6, 6, 12, 0, 1, 13, 14, 3, 23, 34, 16. Huh. Not a major problem though, if starting is an issue, they can always make it up later by ...
6 Scoring quick runs against the spinners
Kuldeep Yadav's economy rate? 4.8 runs per over. Ravindra Jadeja also comes in at under five an over, while Yuzvendra Chahal concedes 4.7 per over, and just claimed the best figures ever in Australia with 6-42. Still though, even if the spinners restrict accumulation in the middle overs, it's never too late to ...
7 Tonk around the seamers at the death
While Mohammed Shami has a bowling average of 26.2, he can be expensive at times, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar has an economy rate of ... oh, under five runs per over? As a frontline seamer? Good lord. And he's the possibly the greatest death bowler in the world. Seems problematic.
8 Be assured that, with all that said, New Zealand can still win the series
So, when laid out that way, beating India seems a momentous task, right? Yet, it tells you how good the Black Caps are that they could realistically do it. They have three players who average over 40, including the second best ODI batsman in the world right now, Ross Taylor. Mitchell Santner and Tom Latham are back, Ish Sodhi is a legitimately top-class short-form bowler, Lockie Ferguson has never been better, and the batsmen just put up 371, 319 and 364 in their last three innings. If they can beat India - heck, even if they can make it a close series - it will bode very well for their World Cup chances. Especially if they follow such a foolproof plan.
• 72 Average against New Zealand in one-day cricket.
• 91 Average Since 2016 against all opposition.
• 113 Average since 2018.
• 59 Overall average at a strike rate of 92.7.
• 39 Centuries.