With a new coach, a stand-in captain and another home series waiting to be won, a depleted India still looks ready to whip out a familiar result.
Moreover, given the conditions at the Green Park Stadium here and spin-resources in the squad, coach Rahul Dravid will not be required to bring in much of his cricketing acumen to stump the opposition on his “Test debut”.
Leading the squad, without some of the regulars, Ajinkya Rahane is quietly confident of the ammunition needed to take out New Zealand, the reigning World Test champions.
Although not a rank turner, the pitch here appears dry and good enough for the spin trio of R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel to get into the act early. In short, the longevity of this Test depends
entirely on how New Zealand bats.
Last time a Test was played here, involving these teams in 2016, Ashwin took 10 wickets and Man-of-the-Match Jadeja six, to go with his unbeaten 50. The match did go into the fifth day with India winning by
For the first Test to be competitive, skipper Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor will have to show the way to play spin. The duo, after playing an important part in the World Test Championship final at Lord’s, will
be keen to repeat the dose to the Indian spinners, despite the occasion and the conditions being vastly different here.
A similar sentiment runs in the Indian dressing room, too. Having blanked New Zealand in the three-match T20 series after losing the key World T20 league tie match to the Kiwis, the host is raring to inflict a 2-0 whitewash in Tests to avenge the loss suffered in the WTC final.
Looking to do one better than last time in the on-going WTC, India has no reason to provide batting-friendly pitches in the series. Similarly, New Zealand is not known to alter its home advantages in any format.
After all, India and New Zealand thrive in home conditions. In the past 10 seasons, if one considers only the decisive Tests played in these countries, New Zealand won 43 out of 48 and India, 47 from 51. Now expect India to improve that number.
Given that spinners will call the shots here, it remains to be seen which two new-ball bowlers among Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Siraj, Umesh Yadav and Prasidh Krishna will be considered.
The absence of K. L. Rahul means Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal will open, and Shreyas Iyer makes his Test debut. Regulars like Ajinkya, Cheteshwar Pujara and comeback-man Wriddhiman Saha, along the five
bowlers, complete the playing XI.
New Zealand not only faces concerns regarding playing quality spinners on these pitches but also, how its slower bowlers bowl to the Indian batsmen.
Left-arm spinners Mitchell Santner and Ajaz Patel appear certainties to accompany pacemen Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson. Four-Test old off-spinner William Somerville could well be the third spin option.
Shreyas Iyer to debut
Finally, the wait is over for Shreyas Iyer. The Mumbai right-hander will make his Test debut against New Zealand here on Thursday.
First added to the Test squad in March 2017 as a cover for Virat Kohli on the eve of the fourth Test against Australia, Shreyas went on to make his ODI debut (against New Zealand) and T20 International debut
(against Sri Lanka) later that year.
As a result, after 22 ODIs and 32 T20 Internationals, Shreyas gets to play Test cricket. Having made a mark with some tall scores, consistently in the domestic seasons, Shreyas averages 52.18 in first-class cricket after 4592 runs in 54 matches.
Interestingly, in his last first-class match, Shreyas played for Rest of India against Vidarbha in the Irani Cup tie in February 2019.
Confirming the Test debut for Shreyas, Rahane did not rule out another debutant in Thursday’s playing XI. This leaves a ray of hope for his Mumbai teammate Surya Kumar Yadav.
Rahane described the absence of Rahul was a “big blow” and continued, “He did really well in England. Obviously, we will miss him. But, we have guys who can do that job (of an opener).”
Like Cheteshwar Pujara on Tuesday, Rahane, too, chose to downplay his inconsistency in getting big scores since that match-winning century in Melbourne earlier this year.
“My job is to contribute for the team and contribution doesn’t mean you score a hundred every game. A 30, 40, 70 at a crucial moment are also important contributions,” he pointed out but strangely added, “I
have never thought where I am going. What happens in the future is not of concern to me.”
India: Ajinkya Rahane (Captain), Cheteshwar Pujara (vice-captain), Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), K. S. Bharat (wicket-keeper), Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Axar Patel, Jayant Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad. Siraj and Prasidh Krishna.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (Captain), Tom Blundell (wicketkeeper), Tom Latham, Ross Taylor, Daryl Mitchell, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, Mitchell Santner, William Somerville,
Tim Southee, Will Young, Neil Wagner, Kyle Jamieson.
Match Starts at 9:30 a.m.