Kiwi tour takes MS Dhoni a step closer to 2015 World Cup

The most prestigious ICC event -- ODI World Cup – scheduled to take place in Trans-Tasman nations is just a year away. So, it’s time for all the teams to start focusing solely on it. Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Team India lifted the coveted trophy in 2011, after beating another sub-continent side Sri Lanka in the finals, to become the first country in the history of the game to win the title while hosting the event. It also helped India join the elite club of countries who had won the coveted Cup more than once – with West Indies and Australia.

With just a year left for the preparations to defend their title, every limited over tournament from here on would be a step ahead in that direction for the ‘Men in Blue’. This year, India will kick off their campaign with the tour of New Zealand, where they will play five ODIs and two Tests. The tour is important for more than one reason. First campaign of the year, overseas tour, ODI rankings on stake, are a few factors the visiting team must be pondering. But considering the fact that it’s taking place in New Zealand -- one of the host countries for 2015 World Cup -- makes the series all the more important, at least for the tourists.

In 2013, India performed exceptionally well in the limited over format, when they went on to win six consecutive ODI titles in a calendar year including the coveted ICC Champions Trophy in England. However, the last ODI series against South Africa in the rainbow nation maligned their incredible run to an extent. By beating almost every big cricketing nation, one can certainly say that, India played like true world champions and even justified their top billing in the ICC rankings. But to maintain the standards they set for themselves last year would be a herculean task for the young team.

Coming back to the New Zealand tour, which will kick start from January 19th, MS Dhoni & Co would try to start their season on a winning note. As far as exposure is concerned, at this part of the world, it’s simply lacking in the team. Barring four players in the current squad – Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma – no other player has ever visited the country.

Grooming the youngsters, especially Ishwar Pandey, Stuart Binny, and even Varun Aaron, would be on priority list, which will give them a much-needed confidence to play and perform at the highest level. Monitoring the performances of seniors like Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, who haven’t performed well in the recent past, would also be on the cards during the tour.

If we talk about the young Indian team, it has depth in its batting, as the current squad boasts of players like Kohli, Dhawan, Jadeja, Rohit, Raina and Dhoni. Fielding is another area where India have shown a considerable improvement. From an average side, they have converted themselves into a good fielding unit, if not the best.

The only worrying factor is their bowling department – a perennial issue with Team India. Though they have decent spin options in Ashwin, Jadeja and Mishra, but when it comes to seam bowling, India still struggles a lot.

Mohammed Shami - the new swing sensation, has been bowling exceptionally well, but apart from him, no other seamer has lived up to the expectations of late. Bhuvneshwar Kumar does have an impeccable line and length, with a hint of swing, but in the recent past he too has struggled with his form. Ishant has no dearth of experience, but he hasn’t improved as a bowler. Aaron and Umesh Yadav certainly fall in the category of fast bowlers, but they have to learn the traits of fast bowling quickly, as they just have a year left. Ishwar Pandey is yet to make his debut at the international level, so it would be too early to judge him on the basis of his Ranji Trophy success.

But without a doubt, Indian bowlers will have to work extremely hard, if India has to entertain any chances of defending the 2015 World Cup title successfully.