It finally feels like a World Cup year, doesn't it? In an age of content saturation - organisers trying to horn in as many big events as possible and writers doing much the same to make you care about their own work - something pure happened on Wednesday night in Hyderabad. A game that needed no bigging up. A game that stood on its own. A game that will not soon be forgotten...
And already, it's time to top it, which is exactly why it feels amazing. Because this series - for all the spin put into it - was going to be just another notch in the bilateral cricket calendar. Instead, it's become something that actually matters. And it's become something fun. There's a buzz. There's an expectation. There's a thrill. As if we haven't seen anything yet because imagine even half of what happened two days ago happening at the World Cup.
Shubman Gill was so good. Like eerie good. Like, there's over the top and then there's this. A 23-year-old scoring a double-century in the 49th over of an ODI while single-handedly propping up the rest of his team - and we haven't even mentioned the opposition. Somewhere in Nakatomi Plaza, John McClane is rolled up in a ball crying because he's not the gold standard in doing the impossible anymore. Kids half his age are pulling his shtick.
But John, listen. It's okay. It happens. This sport that you've probably never even heard of does this kinda thing all the time. Like, just about an hour later, with New Zealand at 131 for 6 in a chase of 350, this guy called Michael Bracewell was about to shatter everything we thought was sacred. The coming of age of a golden boy of Indian cricket almost always includes the humbling of the opposition. Sunil Gavaskar took down Garry Sobers. Sachin Tendulkar took down Adbul Qadir. Virat Kohli took down Lasith Malinga. Gill took down Lockie Ferguson. After that, he was supposed to ride all the way off into the sunset but he was made to wait. He was made to sweat.
So here we are, still feeling the tremors of that game, and an excitement for what's to come. Because India vs New Zealand is a battle of titans and equals.
India WWWWW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first) New Zealand LWWLW
In the spotlight: Hardik Pandya and Glenn Phillips
Once upon a time, Hardik Pandya would walk into a cricket field and start hitting boundaries. He'd come to press conferences, stop just short of Marlon Samuelsing it, and say with a perfectly straight face that "I could hit a six anytime I wanted to." Now, five years later, a father and a future leader, some of that fire has been tempered. Two of his four slowest ODI innings (min 30 balls faced) have come in the last week. Both on tough pitches and in winning causes. India will hope their point of difference allrounder is adding to his game, and not necessarily compromising it because the Hardik of old used to put fear in the opposition - which is awesome enough - but he'd also one-up it by feeding off that fear until nothing seemed beyond his reach.
We've all noticed there's a bit of Steven Smith about Glenn Phillips, right? In his stance. In his backlift. In the way he refuses a run. There's a chance that he's copied one of the most un-outable batters of our times just to maximise the one thing he has that Smith doesn't. Pure, beautiful power. The guy claims to do 800 press-ups a day in order to sustain the thing sets him apart. Six-hitting. West Indies, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have all seen just how destructive he can be - even from dire situations. At some point in this series, India could to see it too.
Team news: Will India try Malik? Is Sodhi back to fitness?
The middle overs didn't go India's way with the ball in Hyderabad. Would that tempt them to bring in Umran Malik? The upside is his pace. The downside is their batting depth takes a big hit if he comes in for Shardul Thakur.
India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Ishan Kishan (wk), 5 Suryakumar Yadav, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Washington Sundar, 8 Shardul Thakur, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Mohammed Siraj
Ish Sodhi, currently out with an ankle injury, is tracking well according to New Zealand batting coach Luke Ronchi. A call on his inclusion will be made later.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Finn Allen, 2 Devon Conway, 3 Henry Nicholls, 4 Daryl Mitchell, 5 Tom Latham (capt & wk), 6 Glenn Phillips, 7 Michael Bracewell, 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Ish Sodhi/Henry Shipley, 10 Doug Bracewell, 11 Lockie Ferguson
Pitch and conditions: Raipur's first ever ODI
A sellout crowd of over 50,000 is expected in Raipur to mark the occasion of its first ever ODI. The city is also in the running to host Women's IPL matches in March. Seems good things happen to not just to people who wait but stadiums as well. No one's really sure how the pitch will behave, although Mitchell Santner suspects it has more bounce than Hyderabad. Dew will once again play a role on a day where the temperature will go up to 31C in the afternoon and then down to 21C in the evening. No rain is expected.
Stats and trivia
Bracewell has an ODI strike rate of 122.22. With a minimum of 10 innings played, only three others, from Full Member countries, can say they score their runs quicker. Andre Russell, Glenn Maxwell and Liam Livingstone.
It's basic. But it bears saying. India have a batting line-up that now includes not one, not two, but three ODI double-centurions. What the actual...