Premier offspinner Ravichandran Ashwin will be in focus alongside speedster Mohammed Shami when defending champions India take on New Zealand on Sunday in their opening warm-up game ahead of the Champions Trophy.
After a hectic six weeks of Indian Premier League, the two warm-up games will help the ‘Men In Blue’ get back into the 50-over groove and the emphasis will be on team combination moving into the tournament-proper.
India last played an ODI against England, back in January this year. Since the match doesn’t have official status, all 15 members in the squad will get a chance to play.
All eyes will be on Ashwin as he is coming from a two- month break after the BCCI wanted him to opt out of the IPL in order to recover from fatigue after playing all 13 Tests in a gruelling home season.
The warm-up matches will provide Ashwin with much-needed game time as he fights for his place with Ravindra Jadeja in case the team management decides to go with one specialist spinner in the playing XI.
It will be a good opportunity for Ashwin to test his skills against the likes of Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill, and Tom Latham on a placid Oval track where 300 plus is considered to be a par score.
Ashwin has not exactly had a great time in white ball cricket but the Tamil Nadu off-spinner had recently said that he is ready with a bagful of new tricks for the Champions Trophy.
One can expect him to try out new variations in these warm-up games. Another bowler who is expected to bowl a few overs is Shami. He has not played 50-over cricket for India since the World Cup semi-final in Sydney, back in 2015.
A fit Shami is an asset with his ability to work up brisk pace, swing the ball both ways and hit the blockhole. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah along with Hardik Pandya looking good to make it to the playing XI in India’s tournament-opener against Pakistan, Shami would look to make a case for himself.
Among the batsmen, Rohit Sharma will again be batting at the top of the order after not opening the innings for Mumbai Indians during the entire IPL.
While it’s a different format, Rohit will certainly need to make some mental adjustments of facing the new ball first-up.
He had played a couple of Vijay Hazare Trophy matches for Mumbai after recuperating from a hamstring surgery but that was also more than two and half months back.
Shikhar Dhawan has been lucky to get a look-in considering Lokesh Rahul had a shoulder surgery. Dhawan, who was adjudged the ‘Best Batsman’ during the 2013 edition, would like to once again cement his place atleast in the limited overs squad.
Mitchell McClenaghan, Tim Southee and Trent Boult make up for a very potent seam attack in any conditions — something skipper Virat Kohli would fancy as he is slowly getting back to form.
The middle-order trio of MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Kedar Jadhav will also seek to gain requisite confidence before the game against Pakistan on June 4.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni (wk), Yuvraj Singh, Kedar Jadhav, Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Dinesh Karthik, Jasprit Bumrah
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Latham, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Luke Ronchi (wk), Neil Broom, Jimmy Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Corey Anderson, Mitchell Santner, Jeetan Patel, Adam Milne, Mitchell McClenaghan, Tim Southee, Trent Boult.