THIRUVANANTHAPURAM : India don’t often lose a bilateral series at home. The last time they were beaten on their own backyard was by South Africa, both in the ODI and the T20 series in 2015. Before that, it was Pakistan who conquered them in 2012 winning the ODI series.
History thus suggests that the hosts start favourites against New Zealand, their bogey team in T20s till the start of the series, in the third and deciding T20 international at the Sports Hub in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday night. New Zealand, on the other hand, will be looking to repeat the feat of 2012, when they won the two-match T20 series 1-0 in India.
Low-scoring matches have been a trend during India’s matches against Australia and the first two ODIs against the Kiwis, a clear deviation from the norm where batsmen flourish on flat tracks. However, normalcy seems to have been restored after the first two T20s against New Zealand as teams batting first had no trouble getting to scores around 200. The debut of the Sports Hub is also expected to be a run-feast that would satisfy the capacity crowd of 55,000.
The catch here is that on flat decks, the craft of Indian bowlers, seamers and spinners alike, gets negated. And their batsmen, prolific scorers but not manic-hitters by any sense of imagination, have been found wanting when asked to match up with the hitting prowess of T20 specialists like Colin Munro in the last match in Rajkot or Evin Lewis in Jamaica earlier.
While the top-order of openers Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohlihave been in terrific form for India, the same cannot be said for those who follow them. The muddle in the middle has been a long persisting problem for India and it gets accentuated when out-of-touch batsmen are asked to go at 10 runs per over from the word go. With rain around, a curtailed match would put even more pressure on the middle order of Shreyas Iyer, Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni.
The relevance of Dhoni in the T20 setup has come under scanner after his patchy innings in the Rajkot match. Though his six-hitting expertise is intact, the quintessential Dhoni trait of milking singles off spinners seems to have deserted him. However, Dhoni has got support from captain Virat Kohli and bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar echoed the same sentiment in the pre-match press conference.
“If you look at his record, we know whatever he has done is for the benefit of the team. He’s a legend. No one has any doubt about his value, “said Bhuvneshwar.
It would be interesting to see if New Zealand would give the experienced Ross Taylor a go at the risk of upsetting a winning combination. As for India, seamer Siraj, who went for plenty in his debut, is likely to be given another chance.
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah
New Zealand : Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson, Glenn Phillips/ Tom Latham, Tom Bruce, Colin de Grandhomme, Adam Milne, Trent Boult, Ish Sodhi, Mitchell Santner, Henry Nicholls.