WELLINGTON- India put their top spot in the world one-day international rankings on the line in a five-match series starting in Napier Sunday against a New Zealand side fired up by new-found self-belief.
Although New Zealand lie a lowly eighth on the world ladder, the way they cleaned up their series against the West Indies was a confidence booster for a team with a history of not being able to close out a winning situation.
“It was good to wrap it up and take a big step for this team,” captain Brendon McCullum said after New Zealand beat the West Indies 2-0 in the Twenty20s to go with their 2-0 win in the Tests and two-all drawn ODI series.
“We talked all week about wanting to close out a series and the way we did it was excellent.”
For India to retain their number one ranking they only have to win the series, but a New Zealand win could catapult Australia to the top depending on the outcome of their current series against England.
The difference in status between India and New Zealand was evident when they wrapped up practice.
As befitting the global rock stars of cricket, the Indian bags were placed on a trailer and taken to their bus while the lowly-ranked New Zealanders carried their own bags away from the nets.
But, despite the huge difference in rankings between the two sides, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni declares he is not taking New Zealand lightly.
“Especially at home, they’ll know the conditions better than us and for some who have not played here it will be a challenge.”
Although New Zealand have a clutch of quality bowlers, including key wicket takers Mitch McClenaghan and Nathan McCullum and rising speedster Adam Milne who tops 150 kilometres per hour (93 mph), India have a batting depth.
Virat Kohli, Dhoni and Shikhar Dhawan are ranked among the top 10 ODI batsmen and are quick-scoring, near faultless craftsmen.
The 25-year-old Kohli can be a match-winner on his own with an average of 51.54 from his 125 ODIs which include 17 centuries. Dhoni averages 52.88 and Dhawan a more modest 43.96.
New Zealand’s top batsman, Ross Taylor, averages 38.21 and is ranked down in 16th place.
But where New Zealand fancy their chances is batting against bowlers unused to the vagaries of overseas conditions.
This was evident in India’s most recent ODIs against South Africa where they lost the first game by 141 runs and the second by 134, figures which New Zealand duly noted.
“The beauty of the New Zealand team at the moment is we’re up for the fight and we’re keen to be in the mix of a challenge,” Nathan McCullum said.
The McLean Park pitch for the opening match has a reputation for being batter friendly and favouring the side batting last.