Yuvraj centre of attention in opening T20
Saturday, September 8
Start time 1900 (1330 GMT)*
Yuvraj Singh is no stranger to attention. On Saturday, when he walks down the pavilion steps at Visakhapatnam (provided he is picked), he can expect the kind of standing ovation and cheers normally reserved for Sachin Tendulkar at grounds all over the world. His faster-than-expected return from germ cell cancer is an inspiration to millions and even if his contributions turn out to be underwhelming, his team-mates will savour his return to the dressing room.
Yuvraj has had no serious match practice, but those who've watched him train remarked that he was hitting the ball as hard as ever. His inclusion in the squad show that the selectors and team management value his presence, even with strings attached. he has just two games before the World Twenty20 later this month to prove that his selection was inspired. The danger, though, is that the hype will overawe the match itself, and India's captain MS Dhoni made a plea not to let Yuvraj's return distract the team.
India will have had played six Twenty20 games this year before leaving for Sri Lanka. New Zealand on the other hand have been the busiest, having already played seven in 2012. While teams look to stack their calendar with matches in a World T20 year, India's previous bilateral series, in Sri Lanka, included just one Twenty20 (following a five-ODI series). India, curiously, have never been involved in a bilateral series featuring more than two games. This series will only be their fifth bilateral series, out of 14, involving two games. Fortunately for India, most of the players picked for this series and the World T20 are regulars in the one-day squad, so they understand each other's game well.
Despite packing their international schedule with Twenty20s, New Zealand have slumped, and are coming off four consecutive defeats, against South Africa and a resurgent West Indies. It didn't help that their most recent games, in Florida, were heavy losses (56 and 61 runs respectively), with injuries hampering their plans. They will be boosted by the return of Daniel Vettori from injury and he will at least be an asset with his containing role, even if he doesn't pick up wickets. Having run India close in the Bangalore Test, they will begin this series feeling more confident. Now with a fitter squad, they will begin their preparation for the World T20 with games against three tough opponents - India, Australia and South Africa (the last two part of the warm-ups in Sri Lanka).
Form guide (Complete matches, most recent first)
New Zealand LLLLW
Watch out for
Much column space has been given to Rohit Sharma for all the wrong reasons of late. After scoring just 13 runs in five innings, including two consecutive ducks in the ODIs in Sri Lanka, many have questioned whether he deserves a place in any of the three formats. After being ignored for the New Zealand Tests, he has been given a lifeline in the Twenty20 squad.
Jacob Oram is coming off a rewarding stint with Uva Next in the SLPL, where he finished as the joint leading wicket-taker with 11 wickets. It was his astonishing economy rate of 3.82 in 23 overs that played a big part in Uva's victorious campaign. New Zealand will need him to be just as parsimonious to silence India's batsmen
While Yuvraj's return appears certain, there are no guarantees yet on Harbhajan Singh's comeback, given the number of part-time spinners in the line-up to fill the fifth bowler's slot.
India (likely): 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ashok Dinda
Brendon McCullum returns to the T20 squad after being rested for the two T20s against West Indies in Florida.
New Zealand (likey): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum (wk), 3 Ross Taylor (capt), 4 Kane Williamson, 5 Rob Nicol, 6 Jacob Oram, 7 Daniel Vettori, 8 James Franklin, 9 Doug Bracewell, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Kyle Mills
Pitch and conditionsHeavy rain on Thursday forced the players indoors, cancelling both practice sessions. More rain has been forecast for Saturday, but the officials say that the covers - which can protect most of the outfield - and three super soppers can mop up the ground in case of an interruption. The players by now must be sick of the rain. The Indians, however, managed a nets session on Friday, and a game of soccer.
Stats and trivia
- Visakhapatnam has never hosted a Twenty20 before. India have won all four ODIs played here and they will hope their luck spills over to this format as well
- The ACA-VDCA stadium is among only two venues in India with a run-rate of over 6, among grounds which have hosted four or more ODIs, the other being the Madhavrao Scindia Stadium in Rajkot. It shows that it is a high-scoring venue
- James Franklin is the only New Zealand player in this squad who has played at the venue (during the IPL)
Quotes"A few months back I had trouble climbing four steps, now I can't wait to take the field. It is like starting a new life."
Yuvraj Singh on his second coming
"For most of the guys it is a bit of the unknown. Brendon (McCullum) must have played here a couple of times (during the IPL) so it's a new experience for most of us."
Martin Guptill on playing at a new venue
* - 1600GMT, September 7 - This was amended to mention that the start time had been revised to 1900 local time
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.