India begin their preparation for a third ICC World Cup title with a warm-up game against New Zealand in London on Saturday.
Since arriving in England, Virat Kohli and Co had their first practice session on Thursday, where the entire team participated in the nets. However, the match against the Kiwis will give India a real feel of the conditions.
Dubbed the most challenging World Cup ever owing to a format that is a throwback to the 1992 edition, Kohli’s team still arrived in the United Kingdom confident of adding to its two titles in the cricket’s showpiece event. India won the tournament in 1983 and 2011.
The outing at the Kennigton Oval will go beyond experimenting with their highly skilled bowling attack, and quite a bit of focus will be on KL Rahul and Vijay Shankar, contenders for the number four slot.
In a largely settled lineup, the batting combination has been a cause for concern for the Indian think-tank. Rahul found form in the Indian Premier League to stake his claim while Shankar has been woefully out of touch. Reports of an injury in the nets does not help the case of the Tamil Nadu all-rounder who was earmarked for the role when the squad was announced in April.
Kohli’s men, second behind England in the One-Day International rankings, will start the tournament among the favourites alongside the host nation and defending champions Australia. They begin their campaign against South Africa in Southampton on June 5, but India will get their first feel of the mega event in the iconic British capital on Saturday.
While the spotlight will be firmly trained on their talismanic skipper, the number one batsman in 50-over as well as Test cricket, India are also banking on their fancied pace attack, which is a mix of speed and guile.
Focus on team combination
In Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan as openers followed by Virat Kohli, India have one of the finest top three in the world. Veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni, all-rounder Kedar Jadhav and the big-hitting Hardik Pandya provide depth to the line-up.
Opponents will observe the ability of India’s seamers to exploit the conditions, which could be the most important factor going ahead. Jasprit Bumrah, the top-ranked ODI bowler in the world, leads the pace battery alongside Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shankar and Pandya.
Wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal add variety to India’s attack, and Kohli sees them playing an influential role in the coming weeks.
The seasoned Ross Taylor, one of the finest limited overs batsmen in recent years, had said it was good that New Zealand were playing India in the practice game. The reverse also holds true for India, as New Zealand offer them the kind of challenge that could make them battle-hardened.
Kohli has expressed confidence in his side’s ability to live up to the billing, while his counterpart Kane Williamson has said that he’s pleased to have his full squad back together, with New Zealand having last played an ODI on February 19 against Bangladesh.
“It’s been a great get-together for the last few days,” Williamson said at the captain’s meet on Thursday. “We’ve not played together for a couple of months but we’re not the only ones in that boat. The guys are excited to be back in camp which is really refreshing, and we’re looking forward to the challenges that we have got coming up.”
India: Virat Kohli [capt], Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni [wk], Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik [wk], Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul, Mohammed Shami, Vijay Shankar, Rohit Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson [capt], Tom Blundell [wk], Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham [wk], Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor.
Match starts at 3:00 pm IST.
[Inputs from PTI]