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Men’s ODI WC: Hardik-less India face formidable New Zealand challenge in riveting top of table clash (preview)

With snow-capped Dhauladhar mountains in the backdrop, the HPCA Stadium, made at an altitude of 1,457 m above the sea level, offers a picturesque view which leaves you in awe and takes away your breath at the same time whenever a cricket game happens in the city.

Amidst this beautiful background, the Indian team, currently on a four-match winning streak, will be eyeing to extend their unbeatable run when they take on a formidable New Zealand side, unbeaten like them, in a riveting top of the table clash on Sunday.

Though New Zealand and India have eight points each, a superior net run rate means the Blackcaps are ahead of the hosts’. For India, the odds are stacked up against them – they haven’t won over New Zealand in an ODI World Cup match in last 20 years and are in a corridor of uncertainty over their combination in Hardik Pandya’s absence.

There was a moment of nervousness crossing the minds of various onlookers when Pandya sustained the left ankle injury while trying to stop the ball on his follow-through during the league stage match against Bangladesh in Pune, and didn’t participate in the rest of the match.

With him advised rest and not traveling to Dharamshala, with an expectation to join the Indian team in Lucknow ahead of clash against England on October 29, the team think-tank now has to ponder over the best combination it can get as a makeshift measure in the absence of the absolutely irreplaceable Pandya.

With him not available, India need at least two players to fill in for Pandya’s all-round abilities. Pacer Mohammed Shami can get a look in, so as either of Ishan Kishan or Suryakumar Yadav to bolster the batting strength.

It remains to be seen if Shardul Thakur, the person closest to Pandya’s skillsets, will be retained in the seam-friendly venue or Ravichandran Ashwin can come in, as Dharamshala has also shown to help spinners too in its previous games.

Apart from this, India have been great in every aspect, though Mohammed Siraj has been a little expensive with the ball. Captain Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul have been among the runs in every match.

Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja have proved to be strike-makers with the ball, with the spin duo giving India the desired control and scalps for winning the middle-overs phase.

On the other hand, despite injuries to regular captain Kane Williamson and veteran pacer Tim Southee, New Zealand have been in top form. Devon Conway, Rachin Ravindra, Daryl Mithcell, Will Young and Glenn Phillips have made match-winning contributions with the bat.

With the ball, left-arm spin of Mitchell Santner, currently the highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 11 scalps, will prove to be the key for New Zealand to stop rampaging Indian batters. Fast-bowlers Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson and Trent Boult are potent in tearing through the batting line-ups in various phases of the game.

Despite Williamson and Pandya unavailable for Sunday’s clash, the recent form of players in both India and New Zealand camps makes the match at HPCA stadium a blockbuster prospect. It promises edge-of-the-seat battles between the bat and ball to leave fans in awe of the action on the field from a cricketing and aesthetics point of view.

Squads

India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Hardik Pandya (vice-captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Trent Boult, Mark Chapman, Devon Conway, Lockie Ferguson, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (vice-captain & wicket-keeper), Daryl Mitchell, Jimmy Neesham, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, Mitch Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee and Will Young

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