The fascinating India’s tour of New Zealand enters its final leg with the first of two Tests, beginning in Wellington on Friday. As is clear from the way the tour has gone so far, it’s incredibly hard to call, with both sides fancying their chances.
India first. They are atop the ICC rankings and the World Test Championship, with 360 points from three series. They’re yet to lose a game in the WTC, winning each of their seven matches, each of them comfortably. Virat Kohli’s men have often spoken about prioritising Test cricket, and the results are showing; they didn’t lose a single Test in 2019.
The challenge will be stiffer this year though, for they’re not scheduled to play at home. The only Tests scheduled till now are ones in New Zealand and Australia. They’ve shown remarkable improvement in playing overseas in recent times, culminating in their maiden series victory in Australia last year. They’ll be keen to continue the trend and make a strong beginning and a statement in the first series of the new decade.
It won’t be easy though, for New Zealand are a strong side at home. They have only 60 points from two series in the WTC, and are coming after a 0-3 whitewash in Australia. However, their performances in New Zealand tell a different story; they’ve 11 of their last 13 Test series at home, including five in a row.
India not only have a settled unit, but also a problem of plenty. They have selection calls to make – Prithvi Shaw or Shubman Gill? R Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja? Is Ishant Sharma fit enough? The lanky pacer underwent a fitness test on the eve of the game and it remains to be seen if India will play him. If not, they have another experienced pacer in Umesh Yadav, or a promising quick in Navdeep Saini, as replacement options. Jasprit Bumrah is set to return to Tests while Mohammed Shami will continue to do his thing.
Incredibly enough, it was the pacers who made all the noise even in the home run, almost outperforming the spinners. They’ll be itching to have a go in more favourable conditions. The batting is a settled core, with Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari forming the solid middle order.
New Zealand have their ace pacer Trent Boult back, after missing the limited-overs leg with injury. They won’t have the services of Neil Wagner for the game, which will be a big miss. Kyle Jamieson, who impressed in the ODI series, is set for a Test debut.
In the batting front, Ross Taylor is set to play his 100th Test and he’d want to make it a memorable occasion. Along with him, Kane Williamson, who averages 65.5 at the Basin Reserve, and BJ Watling form the batting core.
The pitch has plenty of grass on it, which means batting could be difficult at least in the initial period. Pacers should enjoy bowling on this pitch, which means both teams will be looking to have a go. It’s all set for an exciting start.
India: Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli(c), Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha(w), R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Hanuma Vihari, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill
New Zealand: Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson(c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling(w), Colin de Grandhomme, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Ajaz Patel, Daryl Mitchell, Matt Henry