Virat Kohli and Ross Taylor will vie to prove they are the world’s best one-day international batsman as India and New Zealand clash in the first of five ODIs in Napier Wednesday.
For both sides, the series is an opportunity to fine-tune planning ahead of the World Cup.
But for Kohli and Taylor — currently ranked first and third in the world respectively — it’s a more personal battle, with both in electric form and looking to gain a psychological edge.
The McLean Park wicket promises to be a belter, with New Zealand’s Tom Latham showing just how ripe the pitch is by smashing 110 off just 60 deliveries, including 10 fours and six sixes, in a domestic Twenty20 match last week.
“I think it’s going to be a high-scoring affair,” declared New Zealand coach David Stead Tuesday.
“I’ll be surprised if it’s not. The wicket is hard and bouncy and the outfield is lightning fast as well.”
Since the start of last year Taylor has averaged a stunning 92 from 13 innings and became the first New Zealander to score 20 ODI hundreds.
However, his performance has been shaded by an even more phenomenal average of 113 in 17 innings by Kohli, who has 39 ODI hundreds to his name in total.
They go into this series with Taylor fresh from scoring 54, 90 and 137 in the 3-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka, while Kohli produced innings of three, 104 and 46 in the 2-1 series win against Australia.
But Taylor — with Latham, Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill to back him up in the runs department — cautioned against New Zealand focusing too much on Kohli.
“He’s a sensational player, the best one-day player going around, easily. It’s easy to get caught up in him. You’ve got two pretty good openers at the top, Sharma and Dhawan, before he gets in.”
Rohit Sharma ranks ahead of Taylor at number two in the world, while Shikhar Dhawan is ranked ninth.
Taylor could also have added MS Dhoni to the list of feared Indian batsmen following the veteran’s 51, 55 not out and 87 not out to show he was clearly in form during the three matches against Australia.
The last time New Zealand played India at McLean Park was four years ago when Kohli scored 123, but his 111-ball knock was in vain as Williamson (71) and Taylor (55) set up a 24-run win for New Zealand.
And although India have the higher ranking, their history in New Zealand — where conditions are similar to what they can expect in the upcoming World Cup in England and Wales — is not so good.
They have only won 10 of 35 matches in New Zealand, with a sole series win nine years ago.
The last time they were in New Zealand, in 2014, they were beaten 4-0.