New Zealand v India
Wednesday 23 January 02.00
TV: live on Sky Sports
New Zealand, as ever, are fiercely competitive in ODIs and will no doubt be almost everyone's 'dark horse' for World Cup glory in the summer. They have won 22 of their last 34 matches, including taking two off England in a five-match series in defeat this time last year.
More recently they duffed up Sri Lanka 3-0 this month and drew 1-1 with Pakistan in the UAE in November. A notable entry from the formbook is the 2-1 loss to India in India in October 2017.
Of course their gun players are well known. Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Tim Southee and Trent Boult are high-calibre. But the Kiwis have often been accused of a lack of strength in depth. Can they shut up the critics in that regard?
Well, Colin Munro will hope to bring his fearsome hitting to bear, Tom Latham to convert sensational Test form and Colin de Grandhomme to be more than a franchise name. There's a theme there.
Mitchell Santner, a canny spinner and useful bat, gives them depth with bat and ball while Henry Nicholls smashed an unbeaten 124 against Sri Lanka to suggest he's the vital middle-order finisher they desperately need. With the ball Lockie Ferguson and Matt Henry are seriously underrated pacers while Ish Sodhi is as smart as they come in the spin department.
India still not at full strength
India are still without Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya. It's all their own doing with Bumrah needing a rest and the other two in hiding in disgrace after ill-judged comments on a chat show about women.
All three missed India's 2-1 win over Australia. They missed Bumrah most of all as twice they probably (certainly in defeat in game one) felt a weak Australia batting line-up got a little too many.
The big plus was the return to the form of finisher supreme MS Dhoni, who came in for criticism for a sluggish effort in the one loss. He marshalled India superbly. As expected Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma were in great touch.
With five wins in their last six away series (England in the summer the odd one out) it is difficult to suggest that this crew struggle on alien pitches. They are well-balanced and are rightful second favourites behind England for World Cup glory.
Go big first up
McLean Park was a 2015 World Cup venue with Pakistan and West Indies enjoying cosy wins over the UAE and the Kiwis beating Afghanistan. Mismatches generally don't give a reliable idea of the wicket. Ignoring those and filtering day-night games only, then, the last five first dig scores read: 369-1/292-1/269-2/230-2/262-2. Fair to say that 290 might be par. India failed to chase that 292 in 2014 despite a Kohli ton and Dhoni well set.
Hosts better chasing
New Zealand are 2.3211/8 and India 1.728/11. We're not surprised that India aren't sub 1.608/13 here because the Kiwis offer a greater threat than the Australian rebuilding project. Indeed, this could be a real ding-dong affair over five games and it is a real treat.
As much as we respect the hosts, it would be nice to get with them in a chase. They have eight wins from 12 in the last two years. When batting first they have a record of 14 wins from 23. This pits two nerveless chasers against one another.
Perhaps this is where the gulf becomes apparent. India are not as good batting first but it's still an impressive rate of 12 wins from 18 and one tie. It would make more sense then to back the Kiwis in a chase but whether the 2.3211/8 holds remains to be seen with the toss with them.
In a tight affair, New Zealand could surprise India early with a battery of pacers. Correct scores bets for the series of 3-2 Kiwis and India at 13/5 and 8/5 catch the eye with Sportsbook.
Don't miss Kuldeep
Kuldeep Yadav is underrated by Betfair Sportsbook for top India series wicket-taker at 5/1. With Bumrah rated favourite at 5/2 and not on tour, there is a discrepancy anyway. Still, Kuldeep should not be fourth next best even if Bumrah was not included. He is India's tp wicket-taker in the last two years. And he is their top man abroad, too. No-one gets close to his overall strike rate over the study period and there is no doubt he should be skinnier.
Latham a coming force
We have a soft spot for Ross Taylor, the Kiwi batsman, because he is one of the most underrated batsmen ever. He breaks records all over the shop. He is forever in the shadow of Kane Williamson but Taylor is outscoring him at the moment and is in great touch. He has 303 runs in the last two years to Williamson's 160. He is third jolly at 7/2. It's a good bet. Not as good as Tom Latham at 7s, though. He has more runs than Taylor and was rested for the Lanka games to get him ready for this one.