Team India have wrapped up a dominant home season with victories in each of the nine series they played across formats, including the come-from-behind win against Australia in ODIs. Yet they have shown weaknesses in the format that will be the most relevant one this year. In the four T20Is they played at home - South Africa, Bangladesh, West Indies and Sri Lanka (in order) - India have lost at least once. And probably that is the reason why India are ranked so low (fifth) in the ICC T20I rankings.
India did manage to sniff their best possible combination for World T20 in Australia. But with constant injury concerns over the course of last six months, India have been and will be forced to look at alternatives for the playing XI and get them match-ready, in a bid to avoid the errors of World Cup 2019.
1) Shikhar Dhawan's freak injuries: Since June 2019, Dhawan has been bogged down by couple of freak injuries. First his thumb, then his knee, and finally twice on his shoulder. The latest one has in fact ruled him out of the entire T20I and ODI series against New Zealand. Sanju Samson has been called up as his replacement.
While the opening position naturally suits Samson in the T20I format, who takes a few deliveries to settle in before he attempts a boundary. But the usual tactic of the team management has been to shuffle KL Rahul's position in the lineup and play him as an opener in case of Dhawan or Rohit Sharma's injury.
India hence need to decide whether they would like to groom Samson as an opener for back-up option while also backing Rahul for his new-asserted role at No.5, or will the latter bring his versatility to his table once again while opening alongside India.
Since the start of 2019, Rahul has played 23 limited-overs matches for India as an opener and he averages 42.41 with two centuries and seven half-centuries while also having a false-shot percentage of around 10.6 (only behind Kohli) - well ahead of Dhawan's numbers. Moreover, Rahul-Rohit partnership at the top, since 2019, averages 79.66 across 15 matches in limited-overs cricket, with six century-stands.
While numbers naturally favour Rahul, his promotion in the lineup will also open a fresh debate over Rishabh Pant or Manish Pandey at No.5
2) Hardik Pandya's back-up: The all-rounder has not been part of India's limited-overs squad since September and has been ruled out of the New Zealand tour as well. In his absence, Vijay Shankar was the option, but he too has been plagued by repeated injuries, forcing India to shift focus on Shivam Dube.
Since his international debut in November 2019, Dube has played eight T20Is and one ODI, scoring 64 and 9 respectively. His only relevant knock was a compact 54 against West Indies while batting at No.4. And with the ball, he bagged only three wickets.
Hardik will naturally take his spot upon return given the balance he provides to the squad. He can give 3 or even sometimes 4 overs to the captain and is natural finisher at No.6. But India also need to get the second-best available option ready for the World T20 in case Pandya incurs another injury. Hence, Dube is a must
3) Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal or both: It was ahead of the West Indies away series last year when Kohli had first said that he is looking towards playing one between the famed KulCha combination alongside Washinton Sundar or Ravindra Jadeja in a bid to provide batting depth to the lineup. The two last played together in England in July 2018. Since then, Chahal has been a more frequent face in the T20I lineup amid fall in the performance of Kuldeep.
4) The happy headache: India have four pacers - Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur. Shami and Bumrah select themselves naturally. They have been impressive with the new ball and lethal in the death overs with their increased percentage of yorkers, a glimpse of which was witnessed in the third ODI against Australia.
The toss-up hence will be between Shardul and Saini and India are most likely to go with the former. Saini and Shami are almost similar kinds of bowlers. In Shardul, India can find a pinch-hitter as well. Remember, the tracks are flat and boundaries are shorter in New Zealand. Hence India need batting options in the lineup.
The tour - a five-game T20I series and three-match ODI contest - begins from January 24 onwards. The series will be seen as India's most important test ahead of World T20, but the visitors will have the upper hand in the competition despite New Zealand playing at home.