Napier: India would look to gain some valuable experience and confidence when they clash with New Zealand in a five-match ODI series, beginning here on Sunday, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys will begin the defence of their World Cup title on these very shores next year.
The reigning World Champions will also be looking to defend their number one ranking, in this format of the game, against the eighth-ranked hosts. (Also read: Shane Bond warns India ahead of ODIs)
Unlike their previous tour in December, this trip imparts greater significance to India. Against South Africa, the Indian team management decided to use the three-match series as a learning exercise for the ensuing Test series.
It worked up to an extent against their formidable opponents with their young Test side losing the two-match series only on the last day of the tour at Durban.
While the importance of taking that learning forward in the Tests versus New Zealand cannot be neglected, at the same time, the Men in Blue need to up the ante in ODIs as the run-up to their title defence officially begins. (Related read: MS Dhoni says his side not taking New Zealand lightly)
India will travel to Australia in the latter part of the 2014-15 season, which will be a final dress-rehearsal, and as such this series against the Black Caps is an important marker in their preparation for the World Cup.
The 16-man squad that has arrived here is already a much settled unit, losing only to Pakistan at home and South Africa away in the calendar year 2013, winning six consecutive ODI contests in between.
While this provides a good starting point, there are important questions that need to be answered. The first of them is related to the opening combination, with both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma not doing much in South Africa, ODIs and Tests combined.
Sharma perhaps has more time, given that he bats in the middle order in the longer format and particularly because on away tours, the role of openers to give a solid start becomes more important.
Murali Vijay performed that bit to perfection in the Tests there, further highlighting Dhawan’s plight, who scored only 88 runs in six innings (avg. 14.66) in Africa.
Even so, the toughest question pertains to the middle order, given that a misfiring Yuvraj Singh is no longer part of this ODI squad.