The Indian Cricket team returns to our shores this month, exactly one year from their hurried trip where the focus was on preparation for the 50 over World Cup, held in England in June 2019.
Last year’s tour also included a three-match T20I series.
This time, it is a longer outing comprising five T20I, three ODIs and two Tests.
By winning the 2019 T20s series 2-1, New Zealand ended India’s then run of ten T20 series without defeat and inflicted a first T20 series loss for the ‘boys in blue’ where three or more matches were involved. With his determined champion-mindset, Captain Virat Kohli will no doubt push his lads to settle the score.
The Indian Summer
India would also be eager to have a good contest against the Black Caps, especially after their unexpected setback against them during the semi-finals in England.
India were hot favourites to win the Cup, got off to a brilliant campaign, when a rain-affected semi-final caused batting mayhem on the second day.
New Zealand eventually toppled India by 18 runs in the dramatic contest.
Post that World Cup disappointment, India have had a good run against South Africa and continued the victorious run at home with series against West Indies and Sri Lanka.
While the Caribbean boys provided good a great contest, the series against Sri Lanka was a disaster for the tourists and the talent that separated the two teams was glaringly obvious.
Now, India need to compete abroad, with a strong team to rival.
This summer’s contest against the Black Caps out to provide this.
Hit man returns
There were no surprises in the 16-man Indian team named for the T20 series, with ‘Hitman’ Rohit Sharma making a return as vice-captain after being rested for the Sri Lanka series.
Sharma’s direct replacement, talented Sanju Samson, played a sole innings lasting six runs, after a five-year absence from the team, in only his second outing for India.
He has now been drafted out of the squad. Alas. But that is the tough reality playing a team sport involving high quality players.
Opener KL Rahul is also on hot form, as are Kohli and seasoned opener Shikhar Dhawan.
Paceman Mohammed Shami makes an expected return in the T20 squad for the first time in over two years to pair up with star bowler Jasprit Bumrah.
Crowd favourite Ravinder Jadeja is in, as is the potential sensation, Wicket-keeper batsman Rishabh Pant, who has not escaped the unfortunate scrutiny of Indian media.
Given the tour is lengthy, there is a possibility of Kohli trying the shuffle the order, by bringing himself even lower down the order and get Pant and Shreyas Iyer to hit big upfront.
The onus is on Black Caps
New Zealand on the other hand, would also want to restore some public faith and backing after their demoralising trip down under.
The Black Caps will be desperately hoping for a fresh start after their usual in-form players, Captain Kane Williamson, batting stalwart Ross Taylor and premium bowler Trent Boult all operated below par in the all-important Australian tour.
The tour (anti)climaxed with the New Zealand sick bay busier than the batting crease.
Their dramatic fall in form post the World Cup brilliance has been near unforgivable.
The format of the game may be different, but since the key players are the same across all formats of the game, the Australian tour mauling shows a worrying sign.
Focus will be hot on coach Gary stead, who would have had time to rethink and reset several factors in the last fortnight.
A tour by India, with a major commercial backing, is potential ‘box-office’ material for any cricket board. A high-quality contest alone guarantees an early return.
New Zealand Cricket, along with their selectors and management, will be aware of this.
Busy year for Cricket
The T20 series starts a build-up of preparations for the T20 World Cup to be held in Australia in October. This will be followed by the three-match ODI series to provide prime entertainment, whereas the two Test matches in Wellington and Christchurch provide a chance for the Black Caps to mend their heavily dented reputation.
Before all these, India host Australia in three ODIs so won’t arrive in New Zealand until next week.
At the time of going to press, New Zealand had yet to announce their squad.
India T20 squad: Virat Kohli (Captain), Rohit Sharma (Vice-Captain), K L Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (Wicket Keeper), Shivam Dube, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Navdeep Saini, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur.
Ravi Nyayapati is our Sports Correspondent. He lives in Auckland.