August 26, 2019
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    India vs New Zealand: Battle of unbeaten

    June 13, 2019

    As things stand at this World Cup, the India-New Zealand fixture at Trent Bridge in Nottingham has shaped up as the contest to decide the only remaining unbeaten team of the tournament. But there’s a great chance of both Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson escaping their first losses together, given that the forecast for Thursday is far from promising.

    Since the Indian team arrived in the East Midlands on Monday, it has rained non-stop. That’s not an exaggeration. England’s Flood Forecasting Centre warned south-east England (which includes Nottingham) of a month’s worth of rain over just Tuesday and Wednesday.
    Also Follow: India vs New Zealand live updates

    Today, the second of those days for which the warning of deluge was issued, the rain cleared up for a brief, hour-and-something spell in the morning, during which the India team managed to squeeze in a practice session. And as soon as they picked up the last of their gear and left the ground, it started raining again—a papery and pestering drizzle that is expected to fall all of Wednesday night and carry on into the morning, afternoon and evening of Thursday, the day of the match.

    The weather is the biggest concern in this region of England right now, expect for perhaps in India’s team hotel/dressing room, where the primary worry is to find a solution to the loss of Shikhar Dhawan to injury. On the eve of the match that may not take place due to the elements, batting coach Sanjay Bangar confirmed to the media that Rishabh Pant had indeed been called in as Dhawan’s cover, and that Pant will join the squad in time for the Pakistan match in Manchester this weekend.

    Pant will only train with the squad and not be named as a replacement until Dhawan is deemed unfit by India’s medical team, and the management is ready to wait hand and foot (thumb and foot, really) on him for “about 10 to 12 days”, as Bangar put it. This, of course, means that the batting 11 is due for some major rearrangements and Bangar verified everyone’s easy hunch that KL Rahul, who had finally solved India’s middle-order woes, will be sent back up the order to open the batting with Rohit Sharma.

    To fill India’s hole in the middle order (a problem as unrelenting at the British rain), the Indian think-tank conducted something of a try-out between Dinesh Karthik and Vijay Shankar on Wednesday. It is anyone’s guess which of these two Tamil Nadu team-mates will make the final cut against New Zealand or where exactly the selected will feature in the middle-order. But at the Trent Bridge nets, Shankar batted first and Karthik not long after, and make of this information what you will.

    Back to Rahul, then, who is certain to open against New Zealand on Thursday, weather permitting of course. For the last two months, he—an opener by profession—was given the unenviable task of turning into a middle-order batsman if he wanted to play the World Cup and Rahul focussed his faculties on that. Now, two matches into the World Cup and middle-order career, Rahul has once again been asked to dust off his opener skills and face the new ball.

    All this yo-yoing about the batting order is a challenge for anyone, let alone a man who has not played fast bowlers Trent Boult and Tim Southee in an official ODI game (in the warm-up he chopped Boult on for 6 runs). But Bangar feels that while it is difficult, the great advantage is that it enhances a batsman’s skill-set and makes him a lot more versatile..

    “Playing in various situations helps you understand the game better. So, if you’re a top-order batsman and you get to bat in the middle-order, then you get to know the challenges faced by the middle-order. If a player is able to do that, it helps the team big time,” said the batting coach. “If you look across the history of the game, players have been very versatile, and here you can look at Rahul’s namesake, Rahul Dravid.”

    Dravid was famously shuffled down and further down the order at the 2003 World Cup, where India last met New Zealand on this stage. In that game India won easily, just as New Zealand had four years earlier in 1999, incidentally right here at Trent Bridge. But captains are always quick to point out that wins and losses of the past never matter. And that makes most sense ahead of this fixture, which neither team may win nor lose due to the inclement weather.

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