Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to derail a World Cup campaign. An inspired opponent, a slip in rhythm, a short run of play, a controversy, anger or even rain. Anything and everything can be the trigger. But in India’s case, that trigger could be the injury to Shikhar Dhawan.

Dhawan, who shares one of the most successful ODI batting partnerships with Rohit Sharma, has suffered a fracture to his left thumb and is set to miss a sizeable section of the group stage including the match against New Zealand on Thursday.

While Dhawan will be monitored in the team camp for ten or 12 days, KL Rahul will open the batting for the foreseeable future and batting coach Sanjay Bangar has tasked the 27-year-old with adapting quickly.

“As far as the batting order goes, KL moves up at the top of the order,” said Bangar.

“If you look across the history of the game players have been very versatile, and if you take his namesake Rahul Dravid, it helped the team big time.

“If you’re batting in the middle order and suddenly you go and bat in the top order, then you know how challenging it can be.

“You know you need to negotiate two new balls, but you also understand that there are all these boundary opportunities.

“So it’s a mental adjustment, and any player who is able to do that requires a lot of skill, but ultimately it will enhance the position that he will bat in, and it will help the team’s cause big time.”

Rahul is no stranger to opening the batting, but the last time he did so was in January 2017 and he has had trouble with his technique against the new ball in Test cricket.

Slow and steady

India’s approach to the first powerplay since the 2015 World Cup has been conservative, with no side scoring slower than their 3.5 runs per over in the tournament thus far.

Despite Dhawan’s ongoing absence, it seems their approach won’t waver as Bangar encouraged Rahul to continue to show caution, starting against New Zealand at Trent Bridge on Thursday.

“The batsmen have to be a bit circumspect when the conditions are cloudy and there are two new balls,” said Bangar.

“You always want your top bowler to show discipline and put us in a great position because if you’re in a good position at the end of 10 or 15 overs past the new ball, the seam tends to soften up.

“From that point of view, it’s always a good strategy.

“Every opening batsman would like to have that sort of strategy, where if the conditions are challenging, you always want to give the bowlers the respect at times.”

Head-to-head: India vs New Zealand in ODIs

Matches (Tied, NR) NZ win Ind win
Overall 106 (1, 5) 45 55
World Cup 7 4 3

No favourites yet

Kane Williamson’s side have won all three of their matches to top the table ahead of their match against India but batsman Ross Taylor feels it is too early to pick favourites for the World Cup as the round-robin format gives enough time for sides to get into their rhythm towards the business end of the tournament.

“I think it’s still early on. The majority, all nine (other) teams are still, or maybe realistically seven teams still in the hunt,” Taylor said.

“I think it’s not only the way the draw works out, you know, if you can get into a bit of a roll towards the end – first and foremost, you’ve got to get into the semi-final.”

New Zealand outplayed India, who are among the favourites alongside champions Australia and hosts England, in a pre-tournament warm-up game last month but this is different.

“We’ve faced India a lot in recent times and had some success against them,” said Taylor, who hit a match-winning 82 against Bangladesh.

“Obviously, two world-class spinners on their day. I think we’ve had success at different stages. We’ll have to wait and see what the wicket produces,” he added.

Taylor said India would miss the injured Shikhar Dhawan and the chance to open with a left-right batting combination, with Rohit Sharma.

The Kiwis, on the other hand, have a right-left pair of Martin Guptill and Colin Munro, which Taylor said was useful on English grounds with shorter boundaries on one side of the wicket.

“I haven’t been in the bowling meetings, but obviously Shikhar is a big loss to India. The presence, he plays very well at ICC (International Cricket Council) tournaments and has a very good record over here,” said Taylor.

“Himself and Rohit Sharma have a very good partnership, and I think they complement each other well because they’re right and left-handed.

“In terms of our line-up, I think we’ve had a similar balanced side for a long time, and when you do have a right-left hand combination, it does put pressure in different ways on the bowling opposition.”

(With inputs from AFP)