Such is the nature of the cricketing calendar these days, a World Cup is always around the corner.

Not long after the conclusion of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia, that saw India’s wait for a global trophy extend a bit longer, the attention turns towards 50-over format once again.

The protagonists of the series might not quite be the first-choice squad members for the home World Cup that is less than a year away now. The likes of Rohit Shama, Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah are not in action here... and that means those who are looking to stake their claim for a place in the final squad will need to lay down the markers in New Zealand.

A home World Cup, especially in ODIs, has always been a big event for Indian cricket. But the 50-over format has taken a back-seat in recent times for a variety of reasons, not least of all workload management.

And before the big names get into the 50-over flow of things, the New Zealand ODI series presents a huge chance for those in fray.

What’s in store for Dhawan?

Top of that list will be captain Shikhar Dhawan. The left-hander, who has a reputation as an ICC event specialist in the 50-over format, has struggled for form in recent times but remains the leader in the absence of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul.

Dhawan was appointed as the captain for India’s tour of Zimbabwe in August after Rahul was initially ruled out through injury and a positive Covid-19 test. However, Rahul regained his fitness and was included in the squad as captain with Dhawan appointed as vice-captain.

Dhawan is leading the Indian team for the ODI series against New Zealand in the absence of Rohit Sharma. He was the captain as well in West Indies recently and at home against South Africa.

“I wasn’t hurt [at being replaced for the Zimbabwe series] as I believe certain things are pre-destined and whatever happens is for our own good,” Dhawan was quoted as saying by PTI. “And if you look at it, after Zimbabwe, I again captained against SA at home and the same selection committee handed me the leadership reins. So I am not at all hurt by what transpired in Zimbabwe.”

“There must be something good hidden somewhere (in God’s design). I am very fortunate that at this juncture of my career, I have got a chance to lead India.”

The 36-year-old opener added, “Look in Zimbabwe, KL was made the captain because he is the vice-captain of the main team. And since he was going to Asia Cup (after that series) and in case Rohit got injured over there (in UAE) and Rahul had to captain, it was better that he captained in Zimbabwe and remained ready on leadership front. So I thought from that perspective that was the right thing to do.”

Dhawan, who has played 161 ODIs for India, knows that the competition for the opener’s slot is difficult but said that playing in just one format will help him stay fresh.

“It totally depends on individuals. I count it as blessing that I play one format and it gives me time to pursue other interests. I stay more fresh and much stronger compared to what I was when I played three formats,” he said.

“We now have lots of players across three formats representing India and it’s a good thing. Playing one format has its own challenges also but I make sure that I keep myself in the groove and don’t lag behind others. I have to match the pace of the team. Otherwise it won’t be right.”

Expected to open along with Dhawan is Shubman Gill, who has been in better form at the top of the order. And based on recent volume of runs alone, should probably be ahead of Dhawan in the pecking order for the first-choice squad. So, as much as the series is India vs New Zealand, the mini-battle between the two openers could perhaps be one to keep an eye as well.

Elsewhere, Rishabh Pant will look to put his woeful run in the 20-over format behind and look to continue his good 50-over form. He has a century and half century in the last three innings he has batted for India and will want to step it up once again as the vice captain. Another player who has had a fantastic run in ODIs recently is Shreyas Iyer but his concern against short-pitched bowling was once again a talking point during the T20Is, and will likely be one to keep an eye in this series.

In bowling, there is a chance we could see the reunion of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal as spin twins if India do go with two spinners. But it is the left-armer who has been in fine form in this format and should perhaps be the first-choice. Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar’s presence lends some all-round ability to balance the squad with batting depth.

It is highly likely that only a few among these names will be in the final frame of things for the World Cup that perhaps presents India men’s best opportunity to end the ICC trophy wait. But whoever steps up, will do their case no harm. The selectors, whoever they are or will be, would look to build from here on. An ODI series against the current world No 1 in New Zealand is a chance to impress.

India’s squad for New Zealand ODIs:  Shikhar Dhawan (C), Shubman Gill, Deepak Hooda, Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (VC and WK), Sanju Samson (WK), Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Arshdeep Singh, Deepak Chahar, Umran Malik

New Zealand squad for ODIs: Kane Williamson (c), Finn Allen, Michael Bracewell, Devon Conway (wk), Lockie Ferguson, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (wk), Daryl Mitchell, Adam Milne, Jimmy Neesham*, Glenn Phillips, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee

*Henry Nicholls will Neesham’s replacement for the final match in Christchurch. 

India tour of New Zealand will be streamed live on Prime Video. Matches start at 7 pm IST. The first ODI will take place on Friday in Auckland. Hamilton (Nov 27) and Christchurch (Nov 30) will host the remaining matches.