Much to the surprise of most cricket fans, India registered a dominant 4-1 victory over Kiwis in the five-match ODI series played in New Zealand.
The hosts have a very capable side but their inability to deal with good spin bowling proved to be the decisive factor in their disappointing loss.
With the World Cup just a few months away, this was an important contest for both sides. The two teams have emerged out of it with contrasting moods: India upbeat and New Zealand concerned.
For the Indian side, the momentum continues to build as the Virat Kohli-led side seeks to bring the World Cup trophy back to India after men-in-blue relinquished it in 2015.
The Black-Caps, on the other hand, don’t seem to have the same fluency and buoyant spirit that characterized their 2015 campaign – their best in a World Cup.
With the series done and dusted, let’s look at the repercussions it’s going to have and the four main takeaways for both the teams.
#4 The Reassuring Performance of Indian Middle-Order
The Indian ODI side under Virat Kohli has only lost one ODI series so far since he took over in 2017.
The reason for this domination have been many – the emergence of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal as wicket-taking spin-twins, Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar providing an ideal ODI pace bowling pair and last, but not the least, the dominance of India’s top three.
But one chink in the armour was the over-reliance on Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli.
These three have been very consistent, especially Virat and Rohit, but the middle order has often let India down.
Before the Australia series, this was the biggest worry for Kohli’s team. The under-performance of Dhoni and uncertainty about other batsmen must have exercised the minds of the Indian team’s administration.
But this issue has been put to bed with Dhoni returning to his old reassuring style of play and men like Rayudu and Jadhav showing that they are more than capable of succeeding at this level.
This is the biggest gain for India as it puts the last piece of the puzzle in their World Cup preparations in place.
The Indian team now looks fully prepared to embark on the campaign for their third World title.
#3 Emergence of Shami As Third Seamer
Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah have been dazzling the cricket world through their brilliance with the white ball in limited-overs cricket.
But there was some doubt as to who would step into the role of the third seamer in case India needed one in the World Cup.
With both Kuldeep and Chahal making an impact on a regular basis, India rarely needed one and, on most occasions, Hardik Pandya proved more than useful as the back-up pacer.
But an injury or green track would demand a full-time third seamer and his identity was unclear before this series.
It has become crystal clear now in the form of Mohammed Shami. The West Bengal pacer has been a vital cog of India’s impressive showing in Test cricket but was out of favour for some time in ODIs. In this series, though, he proved his mettle.
The ability to move the ball, that too at speeds of over 140/kph, makes him a dangerous bowler in conditions which have some help for the seamers.
With him in the squad, an injury to Bumrah or Bhuvneshwar won’t leave India as much weakened as would have been expected earlier.
On top of that, he would greatly boost the bowling attack in typical English conditions, if they come around in the World Cup.
Of course, there is some ODI cricket to be played before the big event and if he loses his way, his place would be in jeopardy again. But for now, Shami is back in business, big time.
#2 Fragility of New Zealand’s Batting
The most surprising aspect of this series was the poor performance of New Zealand with the bat.
A batting line-up with the likes of Guptill, Williamson and Taylor in the ranks and further strengthened by talented men like Latham and Nicholls should have done better.
The biggest problem for the Kiwis in this series was their brittleness against spin. Both Kuldeep and Chahal proved too much to handle for home batters with their tricks and wiles.
But what should really make them cringe was the success that Kedar Jadhav was able to achieve.
The innocuous offie hardly turns the ball and only has his weird action to commend himself. But the New Zealanders kept getting out to harmless deliveries from him.
This weakness could come back to haunt them in the World Cup. Not only would they have to deal with the Indian spinners again but other tweakers like Adil Rashid and Shadab Khan may also cause problems.
The two batsmen that would be most crucial are Williamson and Latham. They are the best players of slow bowling in the team and have to lead the way in the line-up becoming more adept against spinners.
The other problem is at the top of the order. Both Guptill and Munro failed miserably in this series.
While Guptill has enough credit in the bank to retain his place in the team, Munro is under pressure and may well face the axe.
His role is of the dasher but also requires substantial contributions. That hasn’t come. It would be interesting to see whether a new opener is brought in for the next series.
#1 Beware of Boult
The only positive for New Zealand from this series is the performance of Trent Boult. He is well regarded as one of the finest bowlers in the world and unstoppable when the ball is swinging.
This quality was evident in the series and the five-wicket haul in the fourth ODI was another masterful display of his swing bowling prowess.
Boult was one of the key architects of Black Cap’s brilliant performance in the previous World Cup and his partnership with Tim Southee was exceptional in swing-friendly conditions of New Zealand.
England is one country where the conditions could be even more conducive to swing bowlers.
Though of late, the pitches in that country have been as flat as anywhere else in the world, the weather continues to be a big factor and on an overcast day, two new balls may well cause problems for the batsmen.
This is where Boult’s skills could prove lethal. If he and Southee get helpful conditions in this year’s World Cup, New Zealand would be in the reckoning as one of the favorites. Boult could emerge as one of the big impact makers in England.