Wellington: India started their New Zealand tour on a note which they could have only dreamt off. They whitewashed the Black Caps in the five-match T20I series, thus boosting their confidence ahead of the T20 World Cup scheduled to be played later in the year in Australia. But the hosts made a remarkable comeback in the ODIs, winning the three-match series 3-0. And now, it is time for the Test matches.
As the focus shifts to the longest format, one must remember that India and New Zealand have had contrasting fortunes in the format in recent times. While India will look to continue their unbeaten run in the World Test Championship when they take on the Kiwis in the first Test of the two-match series beginning Friday at the Basin Reserve, the Kiwis were thrashed by Australia in December-January.
Ever since the Sydney Test in January 2019, India have been unbeaten winning all their seven matches in the ongoing World Test Championship. They have defeated West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh and are currently placed at the top of the table with 360 points.
The Kiwis must tighten their game if they wish to return strongly after the loss to their trans-Tasman rivals as India have very few weaknesses when it comes to Test cricket. Their batting line-up boast of having the likes of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane.
The only weak link in India's batting line-up is their opening slot. Rohit Sharma's absence presents an opportunity for one of Shubman Gill or Prithvi Shaw to partner Mayank Agarwal at the top, with Shaw probably being the front-runner, having outscored Gill in Hamilton.
According to Rahane, India need to put in at least 320 on the board in their first innings in order to provide their bowlers with a chance to bowl out the opposition.
"When you bat first, your mindset is always positive, not saying that it's not when you bowl first. If you get 320 to 330 outside India in first innings, it's a very good total," he said.
When it comes to the pace battery, India seem to have an upper hand with Ishant Sharma having cleared the fitness test and raring to join a pace attack that also features Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Navdeep Saini.
New Zealand, on the other hand, will miss the services of Neil Wagner in the series opener. However, the return of Trent Boult and the promise shown by young Kyle Jamieson in the ODI series still leave the fast-bowling department well-covered.
Thus, quite an exciting battle can be expected between the two teams in what would be historic occasion at the Basin Reserve as Ross Taylor would become the first cricketer to play 100 games in each of the three formats.
Taylor stands out as the biggest positive for New Zealand and with skipper Kane Williamson's brilliant record at the Basin Reserve (1,048 runs at 65.50, with a highest of 242*), the hosts would definitely give themselves the upper hand.
"I think in New Zealand, it's all about cricket discipline and what the team brings on to the field. They are intense and very, very fit guys, and they can keep going all day and test your patience, really skilled with what they do as both bowlers and batsmen, and obviously brilliant fielders as well," Kohli had said and probably that's what the Indian team needs to do in their road to seal a spot in the Lord's final slated to be played next year.
Squads: India: Virat Kohli (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Prithivi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), R. Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Navdeep Saini, Shubhman Gill
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Latham, Tony Blundell, Henry Nicholls, Ross Taylor, Colin de Grandhomme, B.J. Watling (keeper), Tim Southee, Ajaz Patel, Tim Southee, Kyle Jamieson, Daryl Mitchell