With focus on 2023 ODI World Cup, Men in Blue look to test bench strength

After clinching the T20 series in New Zealand, Team India now shift their focus on the three-match ODI series against the Kiwis starting Friday, which will also serve as an opportunity for the Men in Blue to test their bench strength ahead of the 2023 ODI World Cup, scheduled to take place in India.

India will be well aware of the fact that over the past few years, every white-ball series has been viewed from the lens of the ICC global event that is next in line, and for the very same reason they will have to put their best foot forward when they take on Kane Williamson-led New Zealand in the ODI series.

In the absence of senior players – Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and KL Rahul, who have been rested, the series will feature a lot of youngsters, who will be led by veteran opener Shikhar Dhawan, while wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant will be his deputy.

Notably, Dhawan has led India to back-to-back series ODI series wins in West Indies and Zimbabwe and will look to continue the winning run.

Chance for youngsters to put a strong case

The absence of senior players means that some young guns have the opportunity to put a strong case ahead of the 2023 ODI World Cup and they will be eager to capitalise on every chance they get in the upcoming ODI series.

Apart from the results, it will be about the process for youngsters, hence a lot will depend on how they approach and respond to in-game situations.

High hopes from Shubman Gill

In the batting department, all eyes will be on Shubman Gill, who won the ‘Player of the series’ award in the ODI series in Zimbabwe and West Indies earlier this year.

It is no secret that Team India management is currently preparing Gill as an opener for the 2023 edition of the 50-over World Cup. The 23-year-old batter made his ODI debut back in 2019 during the New Zealand tour, but it was only earlier this year that he was able to make a name for himself.

In seven of the nine innings Gill has played in the 50-over format this year, he has opened for India and has managed three fifties while scoring 367 runs. The Punjab batter notched up his maiden hundred in the recently concluded tour against Zimbabwe.

Gill has evolved into a reliable and stable top-order batter capable of toggling seamlessly between opening the batting and coming in at No.3, and considering the pace at which he is scoring runs, Shubman can definitely give senior openers like Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan, a run for their money apropos the place in the next ODI World Cup squad.

Even former India batter, VVS Laxman, who is the stand-in head coach for the team in the ODI series against New Zealand, had earlier admitted that management will have a tough time picking their batters for the World Cup next year.

“The talent in the batting department, we are spoilt for choices. The selectors are going to have a tough decision next year (for the ODI World Cup). It is an opportunity for the youngsters,” Laxman had said in October.

Rishabh Pant needs to step-up

India look set to stick with Rishabh Pant as the wicketkeeper, after his maiden ODI ton in series against England earlier this year. But, going by his recent performance in the T20I series against New Zealand which was not up to the mark, Pant will have to pull up his socks in order to prove that management can bet on him in the coming years. It’s high time that the 25-year-old play responsibly and spends more time on the crease. Pant needs to anchor the innings whenever the situation demands him to rather than throwing away his wicket in excitement or due to poor shot selection, which has been the case time and again.

Meanwhile, the series will be a testing one for Shreyas Iyer as well, who has struggled with the short ball in the T20I series against New Zealand.

Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur have a point to prove

The ODI series will mark the return of bowling all-rounder Deepak Chahar, who was out of the team since October due to a back problem.

Chahar is among the regulars in the ODI set-up and so is Shardul Thakur, who is also a bowling all-rounder. Given that they have a similar role in the team, it’s highly likely that one of both players will make it to the ODI World Cup squad.

Moreover, the rise of Arshdeep Singh is likely to see him make his ODI debut in New Zealand and challenge for a berth in Team India for the multi-nation tournament to be held next year.

Curios case of Sanju Samson and Umran Malik

Top-order batter Sanju Samson and fiery pacer Umran Malik didn’t get to play a single game in the recently concluded three-match T20I series and there’s no proper explanation provided by the management or coach or senior players for the same. Hence, it is to be seen if the duo get the chance to showcase their skills in the ODI series or if they will once again warm the bench.

Dhawan asserts he has ‘matured’ as leader

Notably, it is not the first time that Dhawan will take up a captain’s role as he has led a second-string Indian team in the past and ahead of the series against New Zealand, the Delhi batter has asserted that he has ‘matured’ as a leader and will focus on ‘maintaining balance’ in the team.

”As you play more, you get confident in the decisions you take. Earlier, there used to be instances where I would give an extra over to a bowler out of regard (for him). But now, as I have matured, even if someone is feeling bad, I will take a decision that will help the team,” Dhawan told ESPNCricinfo.

“When you play music on a string instrument, if the string is too loose, it won’t sound right, or if it’s too tight, it will break. So it is a question of creating a balance. (As a captain) creating that balance is very important. You need to understand when to pull the string tight and when to leave it a bit loose. That is an art. It is a matter of timing. At this stage I also understand when to say things to the players and how much to say,” he added.

India vs New Zealand ODI Squads:

India: Shikhar Dhawan (c), Shubman Gill, Deepak Hooda, Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (vc and wk), Sanju Samson (wk), Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Arshdeep Singh, Deepak Chahar, Umran Malik.

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), Finn Allen, Michael Bracewell, Devon Conway (wk), Lockie Ferguson, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (wk), Daryl Mitchell, Adam Milne, Jimmy Neesham, Glenn Phillips, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Henry Nicholls.

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