Currently ranked No. 2 in the ICC ODI rankings, India have crossed the Tasman Sea on a high after creating history in Australia. But they are likelier to face a tougher challenge now in New Zealand. Ahead of the five-match ODI series which begins on Wednesday, here are five reasons why.
New Zealand's great home record
From the start of the 2015 World Cup New Zealand have been a force to reckon with at home across all formats. Even though teams like India, South Africa and Australia are considered the toughest to beat in their own backyard, New Zealand actually have the best win-loss record at home in ODIs since April 2015. In 10 home ODI series during this period, they have completed a staggering six whitewashes, given Brendon McCullum a memorable farewell with the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, built a solid side for the upcoming World Cup and lost series only to two formidable sides: 3-2 to South Africa (2016-17) and England (2017-18).
Try thinking of the most complete ODI side one could want for the upcoming World Cup. Attacking openers, strong middle order, lower-order depth, fearsome pace attack, a wristspinner - New Zealand have them all. The array of quality in their side because of a solid bench strength (Jimmy Neesham will come back after a niggle, Mitchell Santner and Doug Bracewell already have) gives them a plethora of options be it for a five-match series or for a World Cup with nine matches before the knockout stage.
If India think their win-loss record of 18-10 is impressive at home since the last World Cup, New Zealand's is a daunting 27-8, which means they win more than three matches on average for every match they lose.
Recent form on opposite sides of the 300 barrier
New Zealand's last three ODI scores: 364 for 4, 319 for 7 and 371 for 7.
India's last three ODI scores: 234 for 3 (49.2), 299 for 4 (49.2) and 254 for 9 (50).
An ODI series win in Australia with MS Dhoni seeing India through in both victories may have hidden an issue India haven't found a solution to for quite some time - the missing firepower in the middle order. While sides like England and New Zealand have power hitters to push the throttle after the 30-over mark, India may find it tough to do the same in New Zealand or during the World Cup.
India's over-reliance on their top three for 300-plus scores is well known and New Zealand may make the visitors' job tougher with their pace battery and stifling spinners. Granted that the grounds in New Zealand will be smaller than the three India played on in Australia, but the bowling attack is likely to be tougher to score against. Another challenge India didn't face in Australia was setting up strong totals since they chased in all three ODIs. If they bat first in New Zealand, do they have the firepower in the middle order to see through the early swing and post over 300?
New Zealand's middle-order engine room
Talking of middle orders, New Zealand have some muscle in the trio of Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson and Tom Latham; Latham averages the best against India of all the teams he has played ODIs against. The trio have the patience to rebuild after early jitters, the techniques to tackle spinners in the middle overs, and even the fuel to change gears and fire up the slog-overs cylinders.
Less than a year ago, Taylor (113) and Latham (79) chased down 285 after New Zealand were 27 for 3 in 10 overs. Three matches later Taylor rescued New Zealand from 2 for 2 with an unbeaten 181 off 147 balls to chase down 336. Even if India manage to get past the three, New Zealand have depth in the form of Henry Nicholls, Colin de Grandhomme, who returns for the ODIs, and a tail that is much shorter than India's. With Taylor getting much better against spin and Latham having used the sweep effectively on an Indian pitch during his century not so long ago, India may have to come up with something apart from their wristspin magic in this series.
Better bowling attack than Australia's
With Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood having been rested for the India ODIs earlier this month, it becomes even easier to say that the New Zealand pace attack will pose tougher challenges for India. Tim Southee's recent slide in ODI form aside, Boult alone can run through batting line-ups, especially in familiar conditions. To back him up, they have two fast bowlers in Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson, who can hit upwards of 145kmh.
It was Henry who made his debut when India last played an ODI in New Zealand and the visitors had beenblown away by his 4 for 38. Ferguson's bouncers, meanwhile, can trouble most batsmen around the world, especially at 150kmh, and even his slower variations are good deceptions.
In the spin department too, New Zealand look much superior than their neighbours. Australia had played Nathan Lyon, who looked like an ineffective twin of the Test version of Lyon. In Santner and Sodhi, New Zealand have spinners who can not only take wickets with the pressure they build but also stop scoring opportunities with their suffocating lines.
India's past record in New Zealand
The last time India won a bilateral ODI in New Zealand? 2009. The last time India won a bilateral series there? Yup, 10 years ago.
From their last tour there, in 2013-14, the then World champions and Champions Trophy holders had returned without a single win in their seven matches, five of which were ODIs. Forget 300, India managed to cross 280 only once in those five matches, in the tied game in Auckland, and lost nine or all 10 wickets in four of the five matches. The middle order was the difference then, the middle order could be the difference again, if the bulk of the scoring responsibilities land once more on Virat Kohli and Dhoni.
Among teams that have played over 20 ODIs in New Zealand, India have the second-worst win-loss ratio, of 0.560 after Pakistan's 0.531, closely followed by Sri Lanka's 0.571. Historically, it could have been said that Asian teams would find it most difficult to tour New Zealand but this time India have a formidable fast-bowling attack.
India's 3-1 series win in 2009 had stunned the hosts because their batting line-up came together and their lead spinner, Harbhajan Singh, also took wickets, not just the quick bowlers. Can they do it again 10 years later?