AUCKLAND: New Zealand will be looking to put their Test humiliation in Australia behind them when they switch formats on Friday to start their five-match Twenty20 International series against India with the spotlight on Kane Williamson’s leadership.
The series launches a six-week tour by Virat Kohli’s men with three One-day Internationals and two Tests to follow. However, in a Twenty20 World Cup year it is form in cricket’s shortest format that will command considerable attention.
India have just completed a successful three-match ODI series against Australia and Kohli’s immediate concern on arriving in New Zealand was the tight schedule his side faced.
“It’s definitely getting closer and closer to landing at the stadium straight, that’s how compressed the game has come,” he said on the eve of the first match here at the Eden Park before switching his attention to the plight of rival captain Williamson.
There has been intense debate in New Zealand whether captaining the side in all three formats put too much pressure on the 29-year-old, the New Zealand batting talisman who had below par innings of 34, 14, nine and a duck against Australia last month.
Kohli, who also leads all three Indian sides, said leadership was not always determined by results.
“It’s also about how you can get the team together and get the guys functioning under you as well, which I think Kane has done wonderfully well,” Kohli said. “He has the respect of his team-mates and he has the trust of his team-mates, is what I can see, and he’s also a very, very smart cricketer.”
Williamson, described by former New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum as a ‘reluctant leader’, said he was always open to doing what is best for the team.
“I do feel fortunate to be leading such a great group of guys that share a similar passion, which is to keep moving this team forward,” Williamson said. “If those [leadership] discussions are to eventuate and collectively there’s a thought that it would be best for the team, then my stance is whatever is right and fits the group.”
New Zealand head into the series with injuries in the pace bowling ranks and short of recent Twenty20 matches, but they do have the advantage of home wickets where they have excelled against India in recent years.
Although currently ranked sixth in Twenty20 cricket, one place below India, New Zealand claim an 8-3 win-loss record against the South Asian powerhouse including a 2-1 series at home a year ago.
Tim Southee, who captained the New Zealand Twenty20 side against India last year, was confident the squad members who were part of the three-Test thrashing across the Tasman would bounce back.
“What’s gone is gone, and as I said, it was very disappointing and the guys have learnt from it,” Southee said as the teams assembled in Auckland. “We’re going to look forward to the Indian series and a big way to finish the home summer.”
Kohli, meanwhile, suggested K.L. Rahul will continue as their wicket-keeper in the Twenty20 series against New Zealand as it offers them the luxury of playing an extra batsman.
Rahul donned the keeper’s gloves in the last two one-dayers against Australia at home after Rishabh Pant suffered concussion in the series opener earlier this month.
Pant remains part of the limited-overs squads in New Zealand but Rahul is likely to continue behind the wickets again in Friday’s opener. “As I said, him doing well with the gloves has really opened up a scenario for us where it gives us a lot more balance in playing an extra batsman and if he can keep playing that well, perform well with the bat, then why not,” Kohli said on Thursday. “I know there will be a lot said about, talks around what happens to other players and what not, but the most important thing is what the team requires and the best balance we can create for the side.”
With Shikhar Dhawan missing the tour with a shoulder injury, Rahul, who floated in India’s top and middle order in recent times, will be Rohit Sharma’s opening partner in the five Twenty20 matches in New Zealand.
“In the one-day game, we’ll have to think of sticking to the same what we did in Rajkot [against Australia].. have another guy at the top and let KL just express himself at that position where he played really well,” Kohli said. “In T20 cricket, obviously the dynamics change a little bit more because we do have lower order batsmen who have done well. So we have a few more options in terms of solidifying that spot and letting KL bat at the top.”
NEW ZEALAND: Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Tim Seifert, Kane Williamson (captain), Ross Taylor, Colin de Grandhomme, Daryl Mitchell, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Scott Kuggeleijn, Hamish Bennett.
INDIA: Rohit Sharma, K.L. Rahul, Virat Kohli (captain), Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Shivam Dube, Washington Sundar, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Shami, Navdeep Saini, Jasprit Bumrah.
Umpires: Chris Brown (New Zealand) and Shaun Haig (New Zealand).
TV umpire: Ashley Mehrotra (New Zealand).
Match referee: Chris Broad (England).
Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2020