New Zealand and India are set to lock horns in the first of the five-match T20I series on Friday at the Eden Park in Auckland. This series is a crucial one for both the teams as they will look to zero in on the options they have keeping the T20 World Cup in mind which is to be played later this year in Australia. Though the visitors are coming off a series victory over Australia in the ODIs they must feel confident.
Virat Kohli has already cleared that any international game in the World Cup year is important for his team as the players are exposed to different situations. Moreover, the Men in Blue are experimenting a bit in a bid to get their combinations right and this series will be no different. Shikhar Dhawan getting ruled out is a blow to them but the team has enough replacements.
Here we predict India’s playing XI for the series opener against New Zealand:
Openers (Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul (WK))
Rohit Sharma ended the home season with a scintillating century against Australia in the chase and he will be hoping to continue his form into the T20Is as well. He will be playing his first T20I this year having missed the Sri Lanka series as the selectors had rested him for a while. There is no doubt about his talent and form and the vice-captain will be keen to take the opposition bowlers to the cleaners.
KL Rahul has literally done everything to stay in the XI. Moreover, Virat Kohli has more or less confirmed that he will also play as the wicketkeeper-batsman in this game. Rahul fared well against Australia in the dual role and it remains to be seen if he can replicate the same in the shortest format. He is coming off an exceptionally good home season with the bat and is a key player for the tourists in this series.
Middle-Order (Virat Kohli (C), Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey)
Virat Kohli will bat at number three without an iota of doubt in this series. He demoted himself during the Sri Lanka T20Is in a bid to give others a chance but it seems likely that the skipper will take such a chance in New Zealand. Kohli is always in blazing form with the bat and scored runs at a fair clip (56 runs at SR of 164.71) in the two matches against the islanders.
Shreyas Iyer is hitting the ball too good at the moment and should continue to bat at four. Though Australia have exposed his weakness facing the short ball, the Mumbai batsman seemed to have overcome in the third ODI. With Rahul donning the gloves, Manish Pandey looks set to get more chance at number five. He will be itching to make the most of these opportunities and seal his place in the side.
All-Rounders (Ravindra Jadeja, Shivam Dube)
Ravindra Jadeja batting at number six might surprise many but he has improved a lot in the recent months. He can be a finisher India is looking for and then with only a solitary left-hander in New Zealand’s top six, Jadeja can strangle the batsmen with his left-arm spin.
Shivam Dube continues to feature in India playing XI with Hardik Pandya yet to get fit. He offers the sixth bowling option to the team and can tonk the ball from the word go as well. The left-hander though should come up with some variations in his bowling as he will be playing on flat pitches against the Kiwis.
Bowlers (Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini)
Yuzvendra Chahal is finally likely to get a game as India have been rotating their wrist spinners. Kuldeep Yadav played the ODI series against Australia and Chahal should feature in the T20Is to start with at least. Though the leggie has picked only a wicket in two T20Is in New Zealand, he boasts of nine scalps in five ODIs.
Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah pick themselves in the XI. Both the batsmen are exceptional death bowlers and have been nailing their yorkers perfectly. Shami, especially, has improved a lot in this aspect and it was evident in the recently concluded series. There will be a toss-up between Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur. But the former is likely to be preferred purely because of the pace he offers and hid ability to be effective in the death overs.
The likes of Sanju Samson, Washington Sundar and Rishabh Pant will have to wait for their chance. With five matches to be played, the trio will most probably get a match or two to prove their mettle.
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