IANS

After being beaten in the semifinals of the T20 World Cup in Australia, a new-look India will be back in action in the shortest format against New Zealand in the T20I series opener at Sky Stadium in Wellington on Friday.

With stand-in head coach VVS Laxman insisting that the Hardik Pandya-led side, without many regular stars, will be looking to play fearless and flexible cricket during the series, it also kickstarts the road towards the 2024 T20 World Cup.

After going out of the tournament in the Super 12 stage in 2021, India's adopted an ultra-attacking approach with the bat, which gave them results in the bilateral series. But by the time T20 World Cup 2022 came in Australia, they were back to conservative batting approach, especially in the first six overs, which paled badly in comparison to England's swashbuckling play with both bat and ball, eventually taking them all the way to the trophy.

Missing personnel like captain Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul in the top-order may prove to be a blessing in disguise for India in search of players who bat in sync with today's time in T20 cricket.

The series against New Zealand could throw up players who may become vital cogs in ending India's wait for a silverware in shortest format since winning the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2007.

Ishan Kishan and Shubman Gill, uncapped in the T20I format, could be the likely openers for the first match. While Kishan did play as an opener this year when the experiments stage was on, Gill will be hoping to make his mark in the country where he clinched Player of the Tournament award in India's run to U19 World Cup trophy and made his ODI debut.

But the Indian team management could give Rishabh Pant a decent run at the top of the order. Pant, who burst on the scene with blistering performances in IPL 2016 just after catching everyone's eye with his exploits in U19 World Cup earlier that year, was largely kept out of the initial playing eleven in T20 World Cup as India preferred finishing touches of Dinesh Karthik.

But after Karthik recorded single-digit scores, India got Pant in for their last Super 12 match against Zimbabwe, as well as for the semi-final against England. In that game at Adelaide Oval, India didn't promote Pant in the batting order when Adil Rashid and Liam Livingstone were operating.

Instead, he was sent at number six, making six off four balls, as India were a ten-wicket thrashing by England. With the main top three rested, India could consider getting Pant a long run as an opener or if Kishan and Gill open, he should then be getting sufficient time in middle-order where Suryakumar Yadav and Sanju Samson will feature too.

With the ball, India will be banking on leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav and off-spin all-rounder Washington Sundar to click. Chahal will be having points to prove after warming the bench for India's campaign in the T20 World Cup, which left many in the cricketing circle baffled.

While Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep Singh would share new-ball duties, Umran Malik is expected to chip in with his raw pace and some more accuracy. Harshal Patel and Mohammed Siraj too are in fray for game time.

New Zealand, on the other hand, were also beaten in the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup by eventual runners-up Pakistan. With veterans Martin Guptill and Trent Boult mitted from the squad for the series, it gives young attacking opener Finn Allen a chance to cement his spot in both white-ball formats as an opener alongside Devon Conway.

With the ball, Adam Milne will be hoping that injuries stay away to give himself the best chance for shining in Boult's absence. Kane Williamson would be itching to be back amongst the runs while Daryl Mitchell and Glenn Phillips will be keen to continue their run-scoring ways.

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