The venue for the first one-day international is the single biggest positive for India. And here's why: By playing at Napier the Indian team should be able to sort out their batting. Napier is the best location for India on this tour because they are best suited to the climate. The groundsman has done a good job on the pitch and over the last four or five years the wicket has been very flat and batter-friendly. Add to that the short boundaries to the side and you are looking at a par score of 300 on this ground.
If India are able to make the most of the conditions they should get into form going into venues like Wellington and Auckland after this game, where the conditions and wickets are not as good. After the first two Twenty20 internationals, I'm sure they must have discovered that already. The most important aspect for skipper MS Dhoni will be the batting because so far his men have not settled in at the crease.
They have all shown promise but surprisingly there has been little else. Virender Sehwag has got to 25 and thrown it away. Dhoni has struggled and Yuvraj Singh is yet to realise his full potential here. If they bat well, it will boost their morale and with the sun on their backs and degrees ranging in the 30s, the Indians could do well to get off to a positive start in the ODI series. With Ishant Sharma injured during the second Twenty20 match, the chances of him being 100 per cent fit are minimal. Also, given the amount of cricket that is yet to be played on this tour, it would not be a very smart move to risk a critical bowler if he is not totally battle-ready.
India are a good bowling side and I suspect they will play Praveen Kumar in the eleven. Now that could be interesting because he has not bowled for the last month and he could be up and down on form. New Zealand - if I read them correctly - will target him in the powerplays. If you look at the Kiwi camp what has been noticeable over the last few weeks, including the tour of Australia, is the competitive nature of their cricket. Don't forget they beat Australia twice.
A hallmark of their game has been that they are playing very disciplined cricket at the moment. There are very few wides and no balls when they bowl. They know consistent cricket can ruffle the Indians. Time now for the scoreline prediction and I think this will go down to the wire with the scores tied going into the fifth game. It would be an upset if India lost the series. But don't underestimate the Kiwis who are cracking in close finishes with a maturing Brendon McCullum.
I expect McCullum to win at least two games, with the help of Ross Taylor. Jacob Oram is set to resume his all-rounder role. He is a quality player and after figuring in the two Twenty20 games as a batsman only on his return from an Achilles injury, Daniel Vettori is expected to give him a run with the ball as well at McLean Park, provided the anticipated rain stays away. India know they are in a close contest. With Sachin Tendulkar set to pull on the pads for the first time and Sehwag, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj showing some good touches, my head says India will win 3-2 but my heart says it will be New Zealand.