When Team India left for the tours of Australia and New Zealand in November, if someone had said they will return home more than two months later without losing a single series during that time, it would have been hard to believe.
Yet, here we are. India just need to avoid defeat in Hamilton on Sunday for that to be a reality.
In a season of many firsts for the Indian cricket team, Rohit Sharma’s men will be aiming to add one more by winning a T20 International series in New Zealand, as the two sides clash in the third and final game in Hamilton.
The past few weeks have made for a memorable phase for Indian cricket. A first-ever Test series win in Australia was the highlight, without a doubt. But victories in bilateral one-day international series against the Aussies, followed by the biggest one-day series win in New Zealand have given a significant boost to the team at the start of the World Cup year.
Now, a first T20 series victory in New Zealand will be the icing on the cake for the men in blue, who have far exceeded expectations during their three-month sojourn in this part of the world.
With the series locked at 1-1, there is everything to play for in the decider on what is being dubbed as ‘Super Sunday’ by the broadcasters. The first two matches have been one-sided affairs, however, and fans would be hoping for a good contest. A spicy Seddon Park pitch, could add to the drama as well.
India will do well to remember the nightmare they endured during the fourth ODI at this venue where they were shot out for 92 in the wake of some quality swing bowling from Trent Boult.
However, Sunday will be a different day and there can’t be a bigger motivation than winning yet another series in challenging overseas conditions.
“We have played in Hamilton and there won’t be any surprise element as far as the pitch is concerned. Also having won the second game gives us confidence going into the final match,” left-arm speedster Khaleel Ahmed had said after series-levelling second T20I.
“We have rectified some of our mistakes from the first game and hopefully a few which are there will also be corrected,” Khaleel added.
Bowlers step up
India played the same XI in the first two games and in all likelihood, will maintain continuity unless there are some niggles. In case the team management gives change a thought, it could be a like for like replacement with Kuldeep Yadav coming in place of Yuzvendra Chahal as the wrist spinner.
However, a look at India’s T20 playing XIs will indicate that Chahal has been their preferred shortest format bowler on most occasions.
The Indian bowling unit will look to replicate their good show from the last match where they found their rhythm after a pasting in the opener from Tim Seifert.
Krunal Pandya has once again punched above his weight with some gritty performances in the two games.
He might not be the most flamboyant player in the set-up, but Krunal makes up with his hard work and discipline. His accuracy is one of the biggest positives going into Sunday’s match along with the intelligence of senior seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Khaleel also stuck to his brief in the last game where skipper Rohit Sharma had instructed him to bowl back of the length to avoid being hit for boundaries. There will be a similar plan in place on Sunday also.
Rohit Sharma on song
The stand-in captain, who is now the world’s top run-getter in T20 Internationals, will like to better the 29-ball-50 of the previous match, which can well spell doom for the Black Caps. With Shikhar Dhawan for company, a good opening partnership will solve half the problems for the visitors as has been the case during the last four years.
The middle-order has shown solidity in flashes, with the experience of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the exuberance of Rishabh Pant combining well in Auckland.
The team management has experimented with the batting order — first match saw Vijay Shankar at No 3 and Pant at No 4, while the roles were swapped in Auckland. Perhaps, Shubman Gill could get a look in. Otherwise, the two players knocking on the door for a World Cup spot would get another go.
For New Zealand, a better batting effort in the middle overs is what they would be looking for.
Skipper Kane Williamson has endured a quiet limited overs series by his standards and senior batsman Ross Taylor has also blown hot and cold during the last three weeks.
Among bowlers, Tim Southee was impressive in the first game and pretty ordinary in the second along with Scott Kuggeleijn, who also went for a fair amount of runs. But, without Boult to repeat his Hamilton heroics, the Black Caps will have to step up their collective game.
India: Rohit Sharma(c), Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni, Krunal Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Siddarth Kaul, Khaleel Ahmed, Shubman Gill, Vijay Shankar, Hardik Pandya, Mohammad Siraj.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson(c), Doug Bracewell, Colin de Grandhomme, Scott Kuggeleijn, Colin Munro, Daryl Mitchell, Mitchell Santner, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Blair Tickner, James Neesham.
Match Starts at 12:30 pm IST.
(With PTI inputs)