New Zealand ODI series the true test of India's 2019 World Cup ambitions

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The ICC World Cup is on Virat Kohli's mind.

Confidence is brimming in India’s ODI outfit as they get ready to take on hosts New Zealand in a five-match series beginning at Napier on Wednesday.

Virat Kohli and his men were convincing if not spectacular in their recent 2-1 win over New Zealand’s Trans-Tasman rivals Australia. However, the Blackcaps will prove a much tougher nut to crack in their backyard for the Men in Blue and will present a test greater by several degrees compared to their Aussie counterparts.

With the ICC World Cup in England coming up in less than four months, all teams are busy preparing their respective ODI squads for the showpiece event. Two-time champions India will rightly be one of the favourites for the crown on the basis of their recent limited-overs form.

Their greatest threat in the quest for a third crown will most likely come from hosts England who have been flying in the ODI format for some time now with their array of all-rounders and are deservedly ranked at No1.

While England and India will be the frontrunners, the Blackcaps are not too far behind. The Kiwis have historically punched above their weight at the international level and are currently the most competitive team going around on all surfaces and in all formats.

They have shown an ability to adapt quickly to foreign conditions in the ODI format and gave both India and Pakistan a scare in their backyards last year. At home, the Kiwis are as dominant a team as any, as shown by their series clean sweeps over West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the past 12 months.

Only one team – England – has been able to topple Williamson’s men in New Zealand in this period. Eoin Morgan’s men eked out a 3-2 win over the Kiwis during their tour in March last year.

New Zealand are in red hot form currently.

New Zealand are in red hot form currently.

If India are to challenge the Englishmen in the World Cup, they need to gauge themselves against the Kiwis. The Blackcaps are in red-hot form and a series win in their own conditions will be a big boost to India’s World Cup ambitions.

While a series win on Australian soil is never to be scoffed at, India will do well to remember that Australia are in all kinds of disarray in the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner. In the three-match series against the Aussies, India also had the benefit of not having to deal with the pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.

The Kiwis though, are a different proposition. In skipper Williamson they have one of the most consistent batsmen across all formats while in veteran Ross Taylor they have arguably the most in-form ODI batsman. Their bowling attack isn’t too shabby either with Trent Boult leading the line-up and it will be further strengthened with the return to fitness of all-rounder Mitchell Santner.

India themselves are looking light in the fast bowling department with the rest handed to Jasprit Bumrah and the suspension of all-rounder Hardik Pandya. With Pandya and KL Rahul still out of the team, Kohli will have to put on his thinking cap to try out other combinations.

Team India will not have it easy against the Kiwis.

Team India will not have it easy against the Kiwis.

The middle-order is still a worry for the tourists despite the resurgence of MS Dhoni with the bat. Question marks remain over Ambati Rayudu in the number four spot while the lack of an explosive batsman down the order is a pressing issue.

Kohli’s men will take on Australia at home before departing for the World Cup in England but it is their performance in New Zealand in the upcoming series that will show where they truly stand as a team. England got the better of the Kiwis last year. It is now India’s turn to show they can do the same.

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