Wellington:When Mahendra Singh Dhoni's legion set sail for the Antipodes 10 days ago they were a confident bunch, pretty much sure they could vanquish New Zealand in their own backyard.
But having suffered back-to-back defeats in the Twenty20 series, the visitors have been riddled with self-doubt, accentuated by the shoulder injury to pace ace Ishant Sharma.
That T20 world champions India lost both their matches here makes them vulnerable against a side which has been playing aggressive and positive brand of cricket.
Though the young Kiwis are in awe of Sachin Tendulkar, they have cared little for India's record over the last 18 months, hitting it for sixes in the T20 games at Christchurch and the Westpac Stadium here.
The emergence of a new breed of young, exciting players who are positive and bold have done New Zealand a world of good.
They play their natural game and don't fret about setbacks. The infusion of fresh blood has enriched the Black Cap's stock, a position from where their international rating can only look up. If they win the five-match series hands down, they could upstage India (third) in the ICC ODI ratings.
"The Twenty20 game has changed cricket quite a bit. Young guys are coming in and playing with confidence right from ball one. That breeds confidence among the middle-order batsmen and makes for entertaining cricket. It is encouraging that the results have favored New Zealand," said former cricketer and New Zealand selector Dion Nash.
Jesse Ryder (25 years), Ross Taylor (25), Neil Broom (24), Martin Guptill (25) are exciting batters who can take the match away from their opponents on their day.
Though New Zealand have lost the prolific Nathan Astle and Stephen Fleming to retirement, they have not been missed much, as the youngsters have made themselves count.
Injuries to Chris Martin, the Black Caps senior fast bowler and James Franklyn have scarcely affected the bowling attack.
Ian Butler, who can hold his nerves in the end overs and bat with the confidence of a middle-order batsman, Iain O'Brien and Tim Southee have done reasonably well to win the confidence and backing of the team management.
The selectors believe that Southee, who had a remarkable Test debut against England at Napier last summer taking five wickets for 55 and hammering a 40-ball 70, including nine sixes, is the future of New Zealand cricket. No doubt, the 19-year-old has been tagged as a 'boy wonder'.
"He is an exciting talent. He has a bright future, which is good for our cricket," said Nash.
The return of right-arm medium fast bowler Kyle Mills (30) bolsters the Kiwi pace attack. Apart from bowling, Mills, who has recovered from an Achilles tendon strain, is handy with the bat as well.
With four specialist quicks in their ranks, it is obvious that the Black Caps have revved themselves up to blunt the challenge posed by Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan with sharp and accurate pace.
The experience of Brendon McCullum, Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori has helped the inexperienced lot to go about their game with natural flair.
That the young guns did pretty well in the recent series against Australia reflects that the Kiwis have arrived on the international scene and are all set to capture the imagination of the cricket world.
That their fast bowlers can wield the willow with confidence is another advantage the Black Caps can ride on. They have a whole bunch of all-rounders, a breed which India are woefully short of.
Having burnt their fingers in the T20 games, India, who were deprived of a practice session at the Basin Reserve due to wet ground conditions this morning, would do well not to take the Kiwis lightly lest they suffer the ignominy of losing their number three position in the ICC ODI rankings.