Ish Sodhi of New Zealand bowls during a Test match against West Indies at Seddon Park in Hamilton. (AFP Photo)
After an embarrassing 0-4 defeat at the hands of New Zealand's assembly line of fast bowlers in the five-ODI series, Dhoni's men will be facing off against an India-born spinner in the Test matches.
Inderbir Singh Sodhi, Ish to his teammates, has been named in the Kiwis Test squad and is sure to divide loyalties among his Indian fans as the Ludhiana-born 21- year-old attempts to impress against the Indians in the first Test, in Auckland, on February 6.
Just five Tests and 11 wickets old in international cricket, Sodhi - as Daniel Vettori's replacement - will be the sole spinner in the squad. The leg spinner is the first India-born to play a Test for the Black Caps and only the second to play for the Kiwis.
Sodhi was four years old when his father, a doctor, migrated to New Zealand. Growing up in Auckland, pace was his first love, more a Shane Bond than Vettori. That was until former Kiwi spinner Dipak Patel, who famously opened the bowling in the 1992 World Cup, encouraged him to bowl spin after the 12-year-old landed in his academy.
Although Dipak was quickly convinced of Sodhi's skill, he warned against the hype, "We don't get a lot of young spinners. The media and the public are getting over-excited. Let him develop. My personal view is he should not be playing against India now, they have batsmen who handle spin very well. But it is just my opinion," he told HT.
But he is not worried that Sodhi, who idolises Anil Kumble, will be overwhelmed by the attention, "Of course, we are all very conscious he is playing against India. His immediate family I'm sure will support New Zealand, but his close family and friends will be supporting India."
The New Zealand U-19 coach, Grant Bradburn, to whose Hamilton-based Northern Districts team Sodhi shifted two years ago to play as a professional, adds: "He's incredibly skilled and understands the art of spin bowling for someone so young. He's special."
Spin might pale against pace in New Zealand, but Sodhi has a height advantage. "The bounce he can generate on these pitches is an advantage," said Bradburn.
Sodhi's recent trip to Australia to seek tips from Shane Warne also received wide media attention. "He was a typical youngster who wanted to try everything, but pretty quickly he realised he wanted to bowl spin," Dipak said. Dipak believes the pressure of learning variations too early can affect his stock delivery, "Unfortunately in the international scene, they try too many variations. It's important that it is not overdone," he says. "Even with Warne, the advice given would be no different."
The Black Caps haven't lost any of the five Tests Sodhi has played. Sodhi could be more than just a spin option for the Kiwis. "He is a secret weapon for New Zealand," Patel said. "And he can understand their lingo as well," he joked.