It's do or die for Indians

After losing the opener, the hosts need to win to stay alive

It's do or die for Indians
Since India’s last limited-overs series loss at home to South Africa in 2015, three teams have been involved in four series here, with the fourth one currently in progress.

New Zealand, England, Australia and New Zealand have visited India in that order and it’s the latter who have been the most competitive on both the occasions, mocking the popular prediction of an easy surrender. While England lost the three-match ODI series early this year before the final ODI, Australia were left to fight only for pride by the fifth and final tie after India took an unassailable 3-1 lead.

Though England and Australia came to India with pundits forecasting close fight, it’s in fact New Zealand that have left India anxious on both occasions. In 2016 they went to Visakhapatnam for the decider with the series tied at 2-2. On this tour, they are in with a chance to win the series in both their final stops – here at the MCA Stadium which hosts the second and penultimate ODI on Wednesday and on October 29 in Kanpur where the series ends with the third ODI – after pulling off a six-wicket upset in Mumbai on Sunday.

After posting 280 on the board, India were the overwhelming favourites to romp home with an attack that has done little wrong in the last three series. The wrist spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, who have been doing exceptionally well in tandem, endured a rare off day as Tom Latham swept, reverse-swept and reverse-pulled the two to put them off their line and length. Veteran Ross Taylor was no less influential with a measured 95 as he also guided the young Latham through the recovery period of the chase.

India didn’t expect this kind of resistance and resilience from the Kiwis who have been quiet achievers through their cricketing history. Unlike a few high-profile teams that visit the country with weeks of fancy preparations to equip themselves for the Indian conditions and challenges, New Zealand go about their job without any fuss. Their game plan is uncomplicated and thus not confusing.

In Mumbai, they may have erred in picking an extra seaming all-rounder to bolster their batting, but their approach to the chase couldn’t have been simpler. While Taylor soaked up all the pressure, Latham was the enforcer, employing sweep to good effect. Not since English great Kevin Pietersen has a visiting batsman used the shot with so much impact.

With their ego bruised and pride pricked, India will be determined to come back harder at the tourists on a pitch that has tended to favour the batsmen insofar as ODIs are concerned. The last ODI here earlier in the year saw India posting 356/7 with England replying with 350/7. In the only other ODI here, Australia had scored 304/8 while batting first. Not much change is expected for Sunday’s clash as India fight to stay in the series.

Their spinners and supports staff would have burnt the midnight oil studying and analysing Kiwi batsmen, especially Latham, and how to counter their strategy. The fast bowlers weren’t too off the mark but a better show will be expected of them.

What India would be looking to address also is the inconsistency of their middle-order. While the top three have been in top form, the performance at No 4 and 5 has been as inconsistent as the team management’s thought-process over who should bat at those two places.

Kedar Jadhav came in at No 4 and had modest returns. He also dropped a catch and didn’t get to bowl his supposed off-spinners against left-hander Latham even though other spinners struggled to rein in the batsman. Manish Pandey may take his place as India follow a revolving-door policy when it comes to their middle-order.

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