Unexpectedly tough series against New Zealand a timely wake-up call for India

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The Kiwis have tested India in the ODI and T20 series.

Just like the preceding ODI series, the third and final Twenty20 match between India and New Zealand is a decider and while it is great news for fans as they have been spared a dead rubber, the India team management should be a bit worried.

Firstly, the Kiwis deserve full credit for pushing India hard. The visitors had the third and final one-dayer in the bag, a sublime run-chase taking the equation to 35 needed from 24 balls with six wickets in hand. Death overs specialists Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah saved the day for the Indians, just about.

T20 cricket is a bit of a lottery anyhow. So it’s not surprising the Kiwis have given the Indians a tough time. Especially since the Black Caps had won the first five T20 matches between the two nations, until the Indians opened their account in the first match of the ongoing series in Delhi. But a 40-run defeat in the second match put the pressure back on the Indians and irrespective of what happens today in Trivandrum, Virat Kohli knows New Zealand have given him a lot to munch on.

It has been a fairly successful year for the Indian team. They won the Test series at home against the Aussies, reached the Champions Trophy final, won all nine games across formats in Sri Lanka and beat Australia 4-1 in one-dayers at home.

But as they prepare for a massive season which includes away tours of South Africa and England leading up to the World Cup in England in 2019, the New Zealand series has shown India are good but still not quite there yet.

For starters, the middle-order continues to be a headache and MS Dhoni’s 37-ball 49 while chasing 197 in the second T20 has already set tongues wagging about his hitting prowess. Apart from the top three, the rest of the batting line-up is in a constant state of flux with either the names or positions undecided in both the 50 and 20-over formats.

Bowling has become a strong point for India over the last few seasons following the rise of seamers like Kumar, Bumrah and Hardik Pandya. But if Kumar and Bumrah don’t pick up wickets, things tend to fall apart. It did in the Champions Trophy final and happened again in the second T20 in Rajkot when both kept the scoring down but didn’t snare a single wicket.

Even so, this Indian team is one of the finest outfits in the game and the management knows it is very close to getting the formula right in white-ball cricket. India have a pool of close to 20 top-class players who can make it to the playing XI, so there is no dearth of options. But it also means the team might take a bit longer to realise the matrix isn’t working, simply because there are so many options to go through.

The New Zealand series has come at the right time for the Indian team. A competitive outfit has shown the Indians they can’t afford to fiddle with the team combination forever and still expect to win a series. Only battle-ready personnel who understand their role and position in the team will survive the onslaught once the men in blue travel outside Asia next season.

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West Indies' T20I tour of Pakistan set to be postponed to 2018 after smog concerns

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West Indies were initially slated to tour Lahore in November.

In a setback to Pakistan cricket’s hope to normalise international cricket in the country, the much anticipated visit of the West Indies for a three-match T20I series could be set to be postponed.

According to a report by DawnNews, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) officials have said that the visit of the Caribbean side is likely to be postponed owing to heavy smog in Lahore where the matches are scheduled to take place.

Heavy smog has become a permanent fixture in regions of North West India and Pakistan during the winter season.

The phenomenon has already seen many Ranji Trophy games in India cancelled or postponed last year and it seems it is likely to wreck havoc to Pakistan’s plans for the T20I series against the West Indies.

“The PCB and the West Indies Cricket Board had agreed that West Indies will tour Pakistan in November, but now it is unlikely to happen because of the smog and some other reasons,” the PCB official told DawnNews.

The tour is now likely to be postponed to March after Pakistan’s limited-overs series against New Zealand.

Cricket West Indies (CWI) and the PCB had inked a MoU for the Caribbean side to tour Pakistan for the T20I series some time back. The proposed series was all but confirmed after the successful tour of Lahore for the ICC World XI in September.

The dates for the series were tentatively set for the month of November which is usually the time the smog sets in.

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Opposition leg-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Ish Sodhi unite over a game of chess

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Ish Sodhi and Yuzvendra Chahal indulged in a game of chess.

While they may have had contrasting fortunes in the second T20I between India and New Zealand held at Rajkot, leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and Ish Sodhi enjoyed a game of chess on their flight to Thiruvananthpuram.

The Blackcaps had roared back in style at Rajkot to level the three-match series at 1-1 courtesy of a 40-run win over the hosts.

India’s Chahal had a disappointing game with the ball after he was taken for 36 runs in his four overs. On the other hand, Kiwi spinner Ish Sodhi had a brilliant game as he finished with 1-25 in his four overs.

The two wrist-spinners decided to kill time on the flight with a game of chess and by all accounts, it was the Indian leggie who finished on top.

Chahal used to be a budding chess player in his junior days and hold the unique distinction of being the only Indian to have represented the country in both cricket and chess.

The 27-year-old’s name is still listed on the FIDE website and when last checked, he held a rating of 1946 points.

Hence it was no surprise to see Chahal trump Sodhi in the classical game though the fact that the two opposition spinners chose to bond over chess was great to see.

The limited-overs series between the two sides have gone right down to the wire with Virat Kohli’s men edging the visitors by 2-1 in a hard-fought ODI series.

With the two teams locked at 1-1 in the T20I series, all eyes will be on Thiruvananthpuram on Tuesday when the sides take the field for the deciding and final match.

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