India's stay in Australia is over but their vigil in the Australian continent continues as the team makes the short trip across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand in what might prove to be the biggest test for Virat Kohli's men before the 2019 World Cup.
The Indian team created in history in Australia and will be rightly proud of their efforts but this was not an Australian team that many would have given a chance against the might of India anyway. The very fact that India was billed as favourites coming into the series goes to show the state of disarray in Australian cricket at the moment.
The challenge posed by New Zealand though will be far greater than it was in the Asia Cup and in the bilateral series against the Windies and Australia. The trio of Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill have been as good as India's top three since the 2015 World Cup.
While the Indian top three have scored over 52 per cent of the team's runs at an average of nearly 64, the Kiwi trio has scored just under 50 per cent of the team's runs at an average of nearly 55. In terms of centuries, the Indian trio score 81.25 per cent of them while the New Zealand trio score 76.92 per cent.
Although this series has been billed as the Kane vs Kohli battle, Ross Taylor will be the biggest threat to the Indian bowlers. In the last four years, he has the second-best average in ODI cricket in the world behind the Indian captain. Taylor's last six scores in the 50-over format are 181*, 80, 86, 54, 90 and 137.
For India, it is MS Dhoni who has the best record in New Zealand with an average in excess of 90 and strike rate close to 100. In his 10 innings, the former captain has six half-centuries and 541 runs.
The Indian team management has been very clear in their narrative since the home series against the Windies that every match they play will be in preparation for the World Cup. Considering that very argument and keeping opposition strength aside, this series against New Zealand will be the real barometer of our team's chances in the upcoming quadrennial event.
The foremost reason for this is the similarity between New Zealand and England, the venue for the World Cup. Australia is nothing like England with big grounds and pacy wickets that suit back of the length bowling. The pitches in New Zealand will be as close to the ones in England where batsmen can trust the bounce and hit the ball. The size of the grounds will also be a massive factor as, like in England, scores in excess of 350 is very possible.
India's bowling will thus be tested and stretched to the ultimate elasticity of their skill set. The last time India toured England, they played with two wrist spinners but the outcome of that series planted seeds of doubt in Kohli. Since then, in the Windies and Australia series, these two spinners have hardly played together. Of course, Hardik Pandya's continued absence has also contributed to this.
But in Vijay Shankar's presence and conditions akin to England, this series will also give Kohli the perfect opportunity to test the durability and effectiveness of his two wrist spinners in tandem. It will also give a clearer indication of the strength of India's middle order and their potency in finishing games against experienced bowlers.
Hence, this five-match ODI series beginning from January 23 will paint a clear picture regarding India's combination for the 2019 cricket World Cup.