India begin their home run with the first Test against New Zealand starting on Thursday at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur. The hosts will have further motivation to do well as the match marks India’s 500th Test in history. The Indians came from a successful tour of the West Indies, and before that well against Proteas as well, thrashing the hosts 3-0. But, for weather’s intervention, they would definitely have whitewashed the Proteas 3-0. Virat Kohli and his men will be keen to carry on the great work.
Of late, India’s success at home has been built on the strategy of preparing turning pitches, and putting the opposition batsmen under immense pressure. From the look of it, they will be continuing with their strategy. As such, Ravichandran Ashwin will have a major role to play. The off-spinner is approaching the 200-wicket mark, and there is every chance he will reach there in the ongoing series. While Ravindra Jadeja continues to struggle away from home, he has proved to next to impossible to face in Indian conditions. As such, India will be looking forward to attack with him as well.
In a reversal to the 90s strategy, India have been keen on playing three spinners of late. And so, leggie Amit Mishra is set to play as the third spinner even though he did not have a great Duleep Trophy final. India have been dealt of blow of sorts in the bowling department, with Ishant Sharma being ruled out due to Chikungunya. In his absence, India will look up to Mohammed Shami, who returned from injury against West Indies to deliver. For the other pace bowling slot, there will be a toss-up between Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav, with the former likely to get the slot.
In the batting department, there is a three-way tussle for the two opening slots. On current form, Shikhar Dhawan is likely to miss out. Lokesh Rahul grabbed his opportunity brilliantly in West Indies, and he won’t be dropped. Also, Murali Vijay has been much more consistent that Dhawan at the top. Skipper Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane will be the key members in the middle order, even as Cheteshwar Pujara would be keen to build on his Duleep Trophy success. It will also be interesting to see whether India give Rohit Sharma another chance or keep him on the sidelines.
New Zealand are facing injury problems even before the Tests have kicked off. Their lead bowler Tim Southee has been ruled out due to injury, while Jimmy Neesham is also out of the opening Test with a rib injury. Trent Boult and Neil Wagner will thus have bigger roles to play. Like India, they also have three spinners in Ish Sodhi, Mitchell Santner and Marg Craig. But, how effective they are remains to be seen. In the batting, they will depend heavily on the experience of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. Also, it remains to be seen whether keeper Luke Ronchi’s ton against Mumbai leads to him replacing Martin Guptill at the top of the batting order.
--By A Cricket Analyst