Tournament favourites India face an awkward first assignment in their World T20 campaign in Nagpur Tuesday against a big-hitting New Zealand team who are determined to show there is life after Brendon McCullum.
After 10 victories in their last official T20 internationals, the hosts are on such a roll that skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is struggling to dampen expectations that the team are sure-fire winners.
But India have a woeful track record against the Black Caps in World T20 tournaments, losing four out of their five previous encounters while the other match was rained off.
And although New Zealand have been undermined by inspirational skipper McCullum’s retirement on the eve of the tournament, their performance in warm-up matches shows they are not lacking for firepower.
They thrashed the holders Sri Lanka last Thursday when Colin Munro, Corey Anderson and Grant Elliott all posted half-centuries in rapid time. Skipper Kane Williamson then smashed an entertaining 63 when New Zealand narrowly lost to England in their final warm-up match on Saturday.
India also suffered a rare defeat in what was an unofficial T20 international on Saturday when they lost by four runs to South Africa in another high-scoring match.
With their powerful openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma hitting a purple patch, and the veteran Yuvraj Singh also in good nick, India will expect to post a big total on a batsman-friendly pitch in Nagpur.
Like many of his fellow skippers, Williamson believes that India are the team to beat but says his side — which is still to win a world cup — do not lack in belief.
“No doubt India will be possibly the favourites for this tournament but I think all the teams will come here thinking they can win it,” he said last week.
Dhoni, known as ‘Captain Cool’, has been downplaying expectations, joking that the team can still step up a gear or two.
“We are running on the sixth gear (although) I know the technology has gone into the eighth gear,” he quipped.
India (from): Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Shikhar Dhawan, Harbhajan Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Mohammed Shami, Pawan Negi, Ashish Nehra, Hardik Pandya, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh
New Zealand (from): Kane Williamson (captain), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Martin Guptill, Grant Elliott, Colin Munro, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Adam Milne, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor