With the Test series over, the spotlight will be on Yuvraj Singh when India take on New Zealand in the first Twenty20 international in Visakhapatnam on Saturday.
The 30-year-old, whose last appearance for India was a Test against West Indies in November 2011, has fully recovered from cancer and his participation has made this match all the more important. Yuvraj has also been named in India’s squad for September’s ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, and all eyes will be on the team list at the toss. There were mixed reactions to Yuvraj’s inclusion in India’s Twenty20 squads and how he goes about on the field, should be play, will be a talking point in cricket corners around the world.
Yuvraj’s Punjab team-mate Harbhajan Singh is another player drawing some attention. After more than a year in the wilderness, he was recalled to the Twenty20 squad and getting a chance to performs is crucial to Harbhajan reviving his international career.
As far the contest is concerned, New Zealand are under pressure to deliver. They were mangled in the two Tests and before that were beaten by West Indies in all three formats. With the World Twenty20 around the corner, they need a win to boost their confidence. The good news for them is that seasoned spinner Daniel Vettori is back after missing the Tests on account of a groin injury.
There is no denying that the Twenty20 format is their best chance to upend India. Power hitters such as captain Ross Taylor and wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum are their biggest bets and the team needs them to fire on all cylinders. They also have good allrounders in James Franklin, Jacob Oram and Nathan McCullum who on their day are quite a handful.
India once again go into this tie as favourites thanks to their superior batting unit comprising Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Manoj Tiwary, Yuvraj and MS Dhoni. Yuvraj’s return would mean that one of Rohit and Tiwary will have to sit out. On form, Tiwary is the man to hold his place but considering how much faith the management has in Rohit, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him play. India will hope to get him some semblance of form before the trip back to Sri Lanka.
It will also be interesting to see whether they go in with two spinners. It is highly likely considering the World Twenty20 is happening in Sri Lanka where spinners rule the roost. In that scenario, it is foreseeable that Harbhajan partners R Ashwin, the offspinner who took his place as India’s lead slow bowler. Piyush Chawla is the third spinner in the squad but there is little chance of him featuring. Irfan Pathan is likely to retain his place as the primary allrounder on account of some really good performances in Sri Lanka.
As far as the pace department is concerned, Zaheer Khan is likely to lead the attack with Irfan and Ashok Dinda to follow. Tamil Nadu and Kolkata Knight Riders seamer L Balaji has been recalled after more than three years, but is likely to remain on the bench considering Dinda’s last Twenty20 international saw him take 4 for 19.
Despite being blessed with a much stronger team, India will have to be wary of their opponents. The Twenty20 format is a very erratic one and being favourite is of little significance. One clarion call for India: they have yet to beat New Zealand in this format and that should keep them on their toes. The weather could have a say in Visakhapatnam, where it has been raining consistently.
India: 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Rohit Sharma/Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ashok Dinda
New Zealand: 1 Rob Nicol, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Brendon McCullum, (wk) 4 Ross Taylor (capt), 5 Kane Williamson, 6 James Franklin, 7 Jacob Oram, 8 Daniel Vettori, 9 Nathan McCullum 10 Tim Southee, 11 Kyle Mills.