As we are in this 'everybody gets a run' stage of World Cup preparations, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the most interesting Blackcaps are getting their big opportunity vs India. I mean, shiver me timbers; that's all I've be writing about with regards to the Blackcaps. The likes of Doug Bracewell, Mitchell Santner, Colin de Grandhomme, Tom Latham and then Jimmy Neesham/Todd Astle (joining the squad later on in the series), are all interesting and worthy of yarns, although there are three others who have laid some foundations and must now hit the nek level.
When discussing 'key players' for the Blackcaps, mainstream media Matty could point out the obvious. Regular Niche Cache readers however, know that Lockie Ferguson and Ish Sodhi have been Aotearoa's best bowlers in the two series under coach Gaz and most interestingly, they have done so in different conditions. With India arriving, the world's best ODI batsmen will be at the crease and eager to stamp their authority on two bowlers who won't exactly scare Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma or MS Dhoni.
Also a factor is that India comes to Aotearoa, straight after a series in Australia and regardless of how they performed (2-1 series win), they have been playing on Aussie decks. Kiwi decks are slightly different, however specifically with regards to Sodhi and Ferguson, the challenge will largely be the same.
Spinning the ball both ways is fabulous for Sodhi, yet I view his best asset as his bounce. Adam Zampa only played one game for Australia vs India and despite being a leggy, he's a short lad with a different skillset. India have Sodhi's best leggy mate Yuzvendra Chahal who took 6w @ 4.20rpo in his lone appearance, along with lefty-leggy Kuldeep Yadav and while none of this is real preparation to face Sodhi, coming from bouncy-ish conditions where different leggies were in action (games or nets) is kinda as good a preparation as an Asian team can have.
India have great batsmen and are coming from Australia where they have been playing on similar pitches to Aotearoa. Then we have Sodhi's importance to the Blackcaps as he's a middle-stages weapon. The closest thing to Sodhi in the Blackcaps mix is Ferguson in terms of being a strike bowler and while 300+ scores are viewed as normal now, the ability to pick up wickets between overs 20-40 is crucial to pegging the runs below 300.
Apart from moving the ball into right-handers, Ferguson doesn't offer anything super unique and we've all seen these Indian batsmen dispose of fast bowlers. This is the series in which Ferguson has to hit a climax, putting into action all he's learned from success in United Arab Emirates and Aotearoa; control, deception, kahunas.
In isolation, Sodhi and Ferguson are crucial to winning games in this series. With the World Cup in mind, Aotearoa's most dangerous bowlers in the last two series' will take immense confidence into the World Cup if they can not only maintain their great work, but also build on that work.
The third most interesting guy is Colin Munro. Although Munro is a lefty and Aaron Finch is a righty, I settled on Munro being funky because of what Finch went through vs Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Finch was dismissed by Kumar in all three ODI's; bowled, bowled and lbw. Kumar pestered Finch's front dog and he not only rolled him all three times, restricting Finch to 26 runs in 3inns, Kumar actually scored more runs than Finch with 29 runs in 1inns.
I have nothing to suggest that this will happen to Munro. More than anything, this is more an example of India having a nifty seam attack to go with their spinners (Chahal, Yadav, Jadeja) and if it's not Kumar making life niggly for Munro, it might be Mohammed Shami. Kumar was the leading wicket-taker in the Australia series (8w @ 17.37avg/4.96rpo) and as he's capable of moving the ball, along with having clear plans, I can see him excuting specific plans to Munro.
With Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor around him, Munro is in the ultimate batting spot for Colin Munro. He's a slugger and if it works, then Guptill is classy enough to build into his innings or if Guppy's off, then Williamson and/or Taylor do what they do best. If Munro's off, well, all good because Williamson and Taylor are amazing.
We obviously know that this isn't how it always plays out. I'm merely suggesting that if you were to pick any line up to inject Munro into, it's this one. Munro however, has to show that he can deal with international bowling groups who now have an abundance of resource on what Munro does well and not so well. With so much footage of Munro, being a slugger at this level is an almighty task and I wouldn't be surprised if India pivoted from Kumar/Shami to one of their tweakers earlier than expected if Munro's still at the crease.
The main point here is that India isn't only super talented, they have clearly shown in Australia that they are crafty cricketers. Kohli's captaincy is beautiful (tactical and leadership), while there are blatant examples of homework manifesting into success on the field. Munro, Sodhi and Ferguson will now feel the wrath of that cricketing nous in what feels like the most important pre World Cup examination of all our Blackcaps.
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Peace and love 27.