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New Zealand vs India 2014: Can India's middle order rise to the occasion?

by KS

Can Suresh Raina step up in the middle order?

After a dismal ODI series in South Africa, MS Dhoni would be hoping for a good show from his boys when they travel to New Zealand for five match ODI series and two Test series. It was a new crop of players who travelled to South Africa and they played to the potential, but just two bad sessions in the second Test cost India the match and the Test series. Nevertheless, India has previously won a Test series in New Zealand and that should give them a lot of confidence.

The surfaces in New Zealand are completely different from South Africa. There will be quite a lot of lateral movement off the surface along with bounce, and it will be extremely difficult for the batsmen to play strokes freely, which is clearly evident from the ongoing series between New Zealand and West Indies. West Indies batsmen were trying to attack the Kiwi bowlers from the word go and paid the price for it. Therefore, it is important for India to assess the conditions well before the first one-day match.

In ODIs, India have quality stroke makers who can switch on the gears when needed. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have given India some prolific starts. Rohit Sharma can assess the situation and play accordingly. He has wide range of shots and is an excellent player off the back foot. But Shikhar Dhawan isn’t a good player of the backfoot, and therefore, he’s struggling for runs overseas. He looks to score the runs right from the word go, but he does not understand that South Africa and New Zealand aren’t ideal conditions which encourage stroke play.  Therefore he has to plan his innings and bat accordingly.

For instance, in the recently concluded South Africa series, South Africa clearly planned their innings when they batted. In the second ODI, they didn’t attack the bowlers unlike India. They went to 75/0 in 15 overs and subsequently they started building their innings. In contrast, Dhawan attacked Dale Steyn from the first over itself and paid the price for it.

So, it is paramount that the openers get India off to a steady start. Rohit Sharma wouldn’t find any problems batting in New Zealand because he has got wide range of shots. However, he needs to find support from Dhawan at the other end. Virat Kohli also had a good series in South Africa, and he needs to keep that going. He learnt how to bat overseas and is certainly capable of reproducing the same kind of performance in New Zealand.

However, the problem for India lies in the middle order. Will they be able to bat well under crisis? Certainly not with Yuvraj Singh out and Suresh Raina’s patchy form. The middle order batsmen have failed to handle the pressure situations right from the tri-series in West Indies. Even in the one-day series against Australia, the middle order fumbled after the openers got India off to a solid starts. This is perhaps the right time for the middle order to get into the groove as India have tough overseas tours this year.

However, it wouldn’t be easy for the middle order batsmen to play strokes freely. New Zealand have asked for more grass on the pitch to assist their fast bowlers. If there are more grass in the pitch, there would be seam movement off the surface and it will be extremely difficult for the batsmen to play strokes initially. That’s where the openers have to rise to the occasion and get India off to a steady start. Consequently, the middle order will not feel any pressure in handling the Kiwi bowling attack.

Rahane had a decent outing in South Africa. If he can score runs in South Africa, why not in New Zealand?

It will be interesting to see the middle order for the first ODI. India have Ajinkya Rahane and Ambati Rayudu in contention for the No.4 spot. Considering the performance and the nature of wickets in New Zealand, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to select Rahane for the first match. He had a good Test series in South Africa and also had a good outing in England in 2011. He has the experience of playing on various types of pitches and therefore, the first preference should be given to Rahane.

India, on the other hand, have formidable bowling attack. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s selection makes perfect sense as he is a good exponent off the new ball. The conditions prevailing in New Zealand are ideal for someone like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and if he can make some early inroads early, New Zealand’s middle order will not find it simple against India.

Also Mohammed Shami has been in good form recently and Dhoni would be hoping that he reproduces the same kind of performance in New Zealand. However, it will be interesting to see whether Ishwar Pandey will be picked as the third seamer for the first one-day. Ishwar Pandey is the new face in the squad and has been picked for both Tests and ODIs and it would be interesting to see whether Dhoni considers Ishant Sharma as the third seamer, or gets Varun Aaron into the mix ahead of Ishwar Pandey.

The selectors have picked a good squad for the upcoming New Zealand series, but it all depends on how our middle order batsmen perform in New Zealand.

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