India will probably use tomorrow's fifth ODI at Eden Park as a chance to test its bench strength as part of the buildup to the 2011 World Cup. After all, the same policy has been applied in dead rubbers in recent past series. If this occurs, it could prove to be quite a mistake. With the exception of the matches against England, which was cut short anyway, India's ODI assignments in the last year have either come after the Test component of a tour, or were standalone tournaments.
This time however, India are really only half-way through the campaign.
The Tests are still to come, and India have not won a series in New Zealand for 41 years. New Zealand are palpably weak in the premier form of cricket, but all the pressure is on India, who are now expected to regularly win overseas despite failing to do so in the past. India currently have the momentum, and their batsmen would never have expected to do so well, especially after the insipid batting failures during the previous tour. Nor were New Zealand likely to have expected such a battering. As Daniel Vettori despondently mused after India sealed the series in Hamilton, perhaps 500 would not have been enough to withstand Virender Sehwag's assault.
India has never confronted the New Zealand bowlers in such a poor state on Kiwi territory. Given their past struggles in this part of the world, they are unlikely to have a better chance of a drought-breaking triumph in the near future. Now is not the time to cede their psychological gains by resting Virender Sehwag or another batsman, or allowing Rohit Sharma the opportunity to have extended batting practice tomorrow by elevating him up the order. Rohit and other young batsmen will have more chances after the T20 World Cup, when India play a bilateral series in the West Indies and tour Zimbabwe. This is particularly true for the latter engagement, which is likely to see the rotation policy used far more liberally. There is little that Rohit could gain in one match that could justify giving New Zealand's bowlers a chance to regain confidence before the Tests.
India must be ruthless and go for the jugular. On so many occasions, an aggressive and in-form batsman such as Adam Gilchrist has been able to demoralise a bowler to such an extent that their tail-end or out-of-form partners appear to be transformed into a much more formidable proposition. Question marks over the recent form of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman remain, the latter's customary form against Australia not withstanding. India's ODI batsmen have New Zealand on the run, and now is not the time to allow them to settle before the Tests.
The likes of Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly never had the satisfaction of recording a Test triumph in New Zealand to their CV. Now that they have been selected, Dravid and Laxman do not deserve the same fate, especially the former, who stood out amid the chaos six years earlier and has done so much in the past to rectify India's abysmal touring history. Now that the boot is on the other foot, it should not be lifted mid-fight.