They may be No. 1 and 50-over champions currently, but in 12 months' time MS Dhoni's World Cup will once again be up for grabs. And for India to keep others from laying a hand on the silverware, it will be crucial how their bowlers travel on this road to the 2015 World Cup that begins with the New Zealand tour.
The five-ODI series against the Black Caps begins January 19, and the challenge staring at Dhoni is how to control his run-leaking bowlers, or better put, find a combination that not only can take wickets at the top of the innings but is capable of not letting that advantage slip in the middle or toward the death.
The best this team did against Australia at home was restrict them to 295, which is a mountain to chase away from home at the likes of Wanderers in South Africa and Wellington in the New Zealand. In South Africa, the team ran into Quinton de Kock, whose hat-trick of centuries deflated the Indian bowlers before the team succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in the three-ODI series.
Ever since the change in ODI rules - only four boundary riders and two new balls, India have struggled to keep the opponents' scoring rate in check. (Getty Images)
Ever since the change in ODI rules - only four boundary riders and two new balls, India have struggled to keep the opponents' scoring rate in check. It's no secret that Dhoni isn't happy with those changes, but with World Cup in view, it's time India learn to cope than complain.
"Individuals have to step up when you play with the new rules," Dhoni said before the team's departure for Auckland. "You need to be confident that you can bowl with only four fielders out. We have seen that with the new rules, even the top bowlers in the world have had to bowl with fine leg and third man in the circle ... We'll have to wait and watch, to see how they [young bowlers] perform under pressure."
Adding to Dhoni's challenge to cope with rule changes will be the odd shape of New Zealand grounds. "I remember when I went to New Zealand for the first time [in 2008-09], I was confused with some of the fielding positions because of the unusual shape of some of the grounds ... It does take some time to get used to it.
"As a bowler, until you play here, it is very difficult to pinpoint the fielding position. It will be a good experience for some of us who have not played here," the skipper said.
Indian bowlers were found banging the ball in, in South Africa. Dhoni admitted that length can cost you if you don't have pace in your arsenal. "Outside the subcontinent, if you are on the shorter side and you don't have that express pace, it means you can go for runs. That is what happened in that series."
But with back-to-back tours out of the subcontinent, Indian fans will expect the team to perform better in the second one against a team ranked No. 8 in the ICC ODI rankings. But even a No. 8 team, playing in its backyard, has a bright chance of upsetting the world champions. And New Zealand are no exception.