Mission New Zealand: Dhawan injury, weather test India

Virat Kohli has issues to address ahead of India's game against New Zealand.

For the first one and half weeks of their World Cup campaign, things just fell in place for India. They hurdled over two of their bigger tests with relative ease. Their openers had hit their straps early, the middle-order looked solid, the No 4 had been identified and the bowlers had risen to the occasion. Perhaps too good to last long?

With two wins from as many matches, India should have been raring to go against New Zealand here at the Trent Bridge on Thursday but an untimely injury to one of their key players has unsettled their combination that was working like a well-oiled machine.

While it’s not an alarming situation yet, things depend on how well the rejigged 11 fits the bill. Shikhar Dhawan braved a nasty hit on his left thumb to crack a century against Australia but India are on the brink of losing the prolific opener after a suspected hairline fracture. The team management has summoned Rishabh Pant as a cover for the injured batsman and he is expected to join the squad in time for India’s match against Pakistan in Manchester on June 16.

Dhawan’s non-availability affects India in more ways than one. To start with they will be robbed of an in-form opener, a batsman with a wealth of experience and big-match temperament. There’s no like-for-like replacement in the squad. Also, it will have a bearing on Rohit Sharma’s approach in Dhawan’s absence. Their seven-year partnership has worked like a perfect marriage and their separation at a big stage will give a psychological edge to rival attacks. Besides that, India lose the advantage of starting with a left-right combination that would make bowlers’ job difficult.

While it remains to be seen how well K L Rahul fills the gap even though he is a natural opener, his promotion opens the No 4 debate again. Do they pick the experienced Dinesh Karthik or Vijay Shankar, the man earmarked as No 4 by the chairman of selectors while announcing the squad? But then there has been no connection between what the selectors convey and what this team management chooses to do.

Given the gloomy weather, India will be tempted to slot in all-rounder Vijay, who also offers the option of medium pace bowling that could prove handy in these conditions. However, if India decide to add an extra paceman in place of a spinner, then Karthik will have a head start.      

While Trent Bridge has developed a reputation for being bowlers’ graveyard in recent years, the forecast of cloud cover can make batsmen’s job difficult as was seen during the game between West Indies and Pakistan, who were bowled out for 105 with the Caribbean pacers going berserk.

The Kiwis have an attack that is tailor-made for these conditions. Trent Boult and Matt Henry can seam and swing while Lockie Ferguson, who has eight wickets from three matches, is a genuine quick. Pace-bowling all-rounders Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme can be more than handy on their day.

New Zealand batsmen have backed up their bowlers’ good shows with equally impressive performances on way to three wins in as many matches. The only downside for New Zealand is that they haven’t faced a top team yet. While their wins against Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are creditable, India would be deriving greater confidence from their defeats of South Africa and Australia. New Zealand did beat India in a warm-up match quite comfortably but it’s a different ball game when it comes to the tournament proper. The stakes grow bigger, the pressure gets multiplied and nerves matter a lot.

New Zealand and India are the only two teams in the tournament who haven’t lost a match nor any of their matches has been affected by rain in any way. With a forecast for light showers, there is a possibility of both when the two take the field on Thursday.

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