Such have been New Zealand's struggles to plug their batting-order holes in recent times that they have had to take some audacious decisions for this series against India. Given the skewed odds of beating India in India these days, New Zealand were left to find a new opening partner for Martin Guptill and even fill the gaping middle-order cracks.
To deal with the first issue, they picked Colin Munro - Guptill's fourth opening partner after Tom Latham, Dean Brownlie, and Luke Ronchi, since Brendon McCullum's last ODI. In his ODI career of 24 matches until Sunday, Munro had never opened before. For the No. 5 spot left vacant by Neil Broom's poor form in the Champions Trophy, New Zealand pushed Latham down from his opening position; a batsman who did not even get a game in the Champions Trophy.
Latham is a solid batsman, without doubt, but he began the year with scores of 7, 0, 0, 2 and 0 before heading to Ireland for the tri-series also involving Bangladesh where he regained form but then lost his position. It meant, for the series against India, New Zealand had decided to add inexperience to the top order and some uncertainty in the middle. They were clearly hedging strongly on their Nos. 3 and 4 - Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor - although Latham's warm-up form, where he made 59 and 108, at least meant he went into the series with confidence.
"With that [new] line-up we know we can attack at the top and it does put the onus on the bowlers to perform and Munro did a great job," Taylor said. "To bring Tom in here, he was one of our best batters last tour and with him with the extra keeping responsibility, it might be quite tough to come out in that situation and open the batting. But for positions five and six, we've been searching for a bit of consistency and Tom, not only in the new role as keeper but to bat at five, to score a very successful fifty, hundred and hundred, hopefully he can continue that and the balance of our side improves with Tom batting at five."
Latham, like Taylor explained, brought with him the familiarity of batting in Indian conditions as he had accumulated 438 runs last year in the Test and ODI series, including five half-centuries, and ended with a respectable average of 44. But those were all scored as opener. Now pushed down, could he cope with the prospect of playing a lot more spin in the middle overs?
To overcome that, he did not do anything extravagant. Most of his runs off the spinners came from either back in the crease or off the front foot, and, most important, the sweep shot which he employed both with and against the spin. His highest scoring area was behind square on the leg side that fetched him 30 runs, 26 of them coming off the sweep. He swept and reverse swept off 20 balls in all and scored as many as 35 runs off them; that's a remarkable strike rate of 175 against the wristspinners.
"He employed the sweep shot over here last time in the Test matches and did it to good effect," Taylor said. "Indian batsmen have very quick feet when they play spin and traditionally, us New Zealanders aren't as nimble on our feet. With the sweep shot we're able to put pressure on the bowler and adjust their lengths and I thought he did that outstandingly well. I told him to reverse sweep and he did it, and he kept doing it. So, I hope he keeps that up because he said he had never done it in a game, he practiced it a lot but it was nice for him to get some success out of that shot today."
Taylor's numbers from the India tour last year were nothing he could take confidence from. In 11 innings across the three Tests and five ODIs, he managed only 208 runs, including three ducks, at an uninspiring average of 19. For this series, Taylor knew he had to resort to new tactics with the bat, such as not employing the pulls and slog-sweeps most of the time. In this match, he used the cut to good effect; the shot fetched him 18 runs as he collected 28 in all behind square on the off side.
"I've had a conscious effort - I've come here many a times before whether it's international cricket or IPL - that I'm not getting any younger and just wanted a bit of a push and just had a bit more intent I think," Taylor said. "Through those middle stages in the past, you take up a few too many dot balls so I've taken a conscious effort of being a bit busier in the crease, work on a few shots and open up the off side. Tom and I got some runs in the warm-up game and it was nice to bring that form into Wankhede today."
While Latham struck a fifty and Taylor scored 34 in the first warm-up, they stitched a partnership of 166 for the fourth wicket in the second warm-up, going on to score centuries each at more than run a ball. That Munro opened in both matches, and Taylor and Latham batted at Nos 4 and 5 respectively meant they were already set in their roles coming into the first ODI.
To prepare for this series, New Zealand also arrived a good 10 days before the opening ODI, spending all of those in Mumbai to acclimatise themselves with the heat and humidity. The real test came on Sunday when they had to field first for 50 overs in the heat of over 30 degrees and the humidity that crossed 70%. It took a toll on Colin de Grandhomme in the first half of the match, when he vomited on the field in the middle of his fourth over. Once it was New Zealand's turn to bat, the reserve players ran out with towels and hydrating resources every few overs so that the heat would not get to the batsmen. Taylor even suggested that the weather was more challenging than the task of chasing 281.
"I think it was more the humidity and the heat," he said. "Having to field out there for over three and a half hours, we knew we had to get off to a good start and try and negate their spinners. Traditionally, New Zealand come here and struggle up front in our innings. Being able to rotate the strike in the right-left combination with Tom worked. You've got to give credit to the bowlers as well, it was pretty warm out there and Boulty bowled outstandingly well."
The New Zealand management must be credited for taking such brave decisions in a three-match series. With a victory to their name already, it means the pressure is now on the hosts to win both matches or they will lose their first series at home in two years.