Five months after clinching the World Test Championship title in Southampton, New Zealand braces up for one of its most difficult assignments – a Test series in India. Given India’s remarkable run in the last 12 months and the liquidation of England in a four-Test series at home earlier this year, a Kiwi rollover seems nigh, despite the absence of some of India’s top batters.
Senior batters Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor will shoulder the batting responsibilities and stand up to R. Ashwin & Co. Tim Southee and Neil Wagner will use their nous on the bowling front to reverse swing the SG ball to good effect. But its spinners aren’t world-class – and therein lies its Achilles heel.
Taylor, now 37, will be keen to make a mark in his fourth series in India. He can tackle the spinners on spicy pitches, and the two Tests offer him the perfect opportunity to enhance his reputation as a versatile batter. He will be fresher for this test than Williamson, who could not have dreamed of a more different setting than the dust and spin of India in whites after the colours and thrills of T20 cricket.
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Opener Tom Latham is one of two other batters in the line-up with some experience of the Indian conditions. Latham struck three half-centuries in his previous tour, in 2016, including a 58 at this venue. Henry Nicholls scored a total of 25 runs in the only Test in India he has played in his career, but given his form – two centuries and two half-centuries in the last six Tests – he will bolster the middle-order.
Kane Williamson and Tom Latham. – AP
For India, the series could provide a glimpse of its batting future. After a lengthy wait, Shreyas Iyer, the prolific run-getter for Mumbai, will finally play a Test match.
Shreyas, Shubman and Mayank Agarwal can score a bucketful of runs on these wickets and provide a good headache for the Indian selectors ahead of the tour of South Africa starting in December.
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It is not clear whether Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas team-mate in Mumbai, will play a role in the Test series, but a Test cap to him will be long-awaited as well. Suryakumar has been knocking on the doors for a while. He is versatile and can bat at any position.
Stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane will be hungry to get back to runs. He could get only fifty in the tour of England. His prolific run in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy – 286 runs in five games – should give him confidence.
Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel are likely to be the three spinners for both Tests, but choosing the pacers will be tricky. If India does go in with reverse swing experts Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, who has performed excellently in the tours of England and Australia, may have to miss out.
Rahane as captain in Tests
vs Australia in Dharamsala, 2017 (Won)
vs Afghanistan in Bengaluru, 2018 (Won)
vs Australia in Melbourne, 2020 (Won)
vs Australia in Sydney, 2021 (Drawn)
vs Australia in Brisbane, 2021 (Won)
India: Ajinkya Rahane (c), Cheteshwar Pujara, Suryakumar Yadav, Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Axar Patel, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), K. S. Bharat, Jayant Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Prasidh Krishna.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Rachin Ravindra, Will Young, Mitchell Santner, Will Somerville, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell (wk), Tom Latham, Glenn Phillips, Kyle Jamieson, Ajaz Patel, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner.