India have won back-to-back overseas tours, including a historic one in Australia. New Zealand have not lost a Test at home since March 2017. It’s No.1 vs No.4 in what looks evenly-matched sides on paper.
What more could you have asked for as India and New Zealand lock horns in a crucial series in the ongoing World Test Championships cycle? The two teams will meet in the 1st of the 2-Test series at Basin Reserve, Wellington on Friday.
Not many teams, in fact, none apart from India, have had such a dominating record at home in the recent past. Despite a 0-3 thrashing in Australia earlier this year, New Zealand will be confident about executing their skills at home.
It’s a crucial series for New Zealand who are ranked a lowly 6th on the World Test Championship table with just 1 win from 5 matches. Top-ranked India, on the other hand, already have one foot in next year’s final with 360 points, 300 more than New Zealand.
New Zealand head into the series on the back 5 back-to-back series wins at home. They look like a well-oiled unit with Tom Blundell, Tom Latham and Kane Williamson at the top of the order. Ross Taylor, who will be playing his 100th Test from Friday, would want to continue his fine run from the limited-overs series.
Apart from possessing an in-form wicketkeeper-batsman in BJ Watling, New Zealand also have the luxury of a solid pace-bowling all-rounder in Colin de Grandhomme — something that India are missing in the absence of an injured Hardik Pandya.
The return of Trent Boult adds a lot of firepower to their bowling attack but the absence of Neil Wagner, known for his 2nd innings exploits, is a small area of concern.
Meanwhile, New Zealand are all set to give Kyle Jameison a Test debut in Wellington. The tall pacer, who can extract bounce that is on offer in New Zealand conditions, also loves to pitch it up and make use of the movement that will be on offer in what is expected to be windy conditions in Wellington.
Win toss, bowl first: New Zealand look to target inexperienced India openers
On the other hand, India are heading into the series with an inexperienced opening pair in Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw in the absence of Rohit Sharma who was ruled out with a calf injury.
If recent numbers are anything to go by, teams bowling first have found a lot of success in New Zealand — something that is a rarity in the rest of the world. Since 2016, teams opting to bowl first in New Zealand have won 11 out of 19 Tests — a win percentage of 57.89 which is the highest in the world.
Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane said 320 if put in to bat first will be a good total. However, a lot will depend on the openers as blunting the new ball is a priority to make sure India’s batsmen are not facing Boult and Tim Southee in full tilt with the red cherry in their hands.
While Cheteshwar Pujara will look to get back to peak form, India have a solid middle order in Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari.
It remains to be seen if India will continue with Wriddhiman Saha or give Rishabh Pant, who has impressed in the last 2 overseas tours, an opportunity for the 1st time on the tour. While Pant has been struggling behind the wickets, the true bounce in New Zealand and his ability to play impact knocks in the lower-middle order might just work in his favour.
With a fit-again Ishant Sharma bowling full tilt in the practice sessions, India’s pace bowling unit will continue to impress. Whether or not India trouble New Zealand will depend a lot on how well the pace trio performs against some of the established names in the opposition.
Will India play both R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, considering the pitches in New Zealand tend to get docile towards the latter half of the Test is a question that will be playing in the team management’s head. With the upcoming series being a 2-Test affair, India might just want to get the job done with 4 frontline bowlers and Hanuma Vihari in the XI.
Pitch and conditions
Despite wet weather in the lead up to the Test, expect good conditions throughout the Test in Wellington.
There will be a bit of grass on the wicket at Basin Reserve which traditionally offers good bounce and a bit of movement. It tends to slow down and becomes good for batting from Day 3.
India vs New Zealand, 1st Test: Predicted Playing XIs
India: Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.
New Zealand: Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Aijaz Patel.
India vs New Zealand: Stats to look forward to
Virat Kohli can become the 1st Asian captain to hit a hundred each in SENA countries
Virat Kohli runs vs New Zealand in Tests — 735. If he collects 265 in the series, he will become 3rd Indian after Rahul Dravid (1659) and Sachin Tendulkar (1224) to hit 1000 runs in India vs New Zealand Tests. Pujara (649) runs needs 351 runs to reach the 1000-rn mark.
Virat Kohli needs 1 more hundred to join Sachin Tendulkar (4) on the list of batsmen with most hundreds in India-New Zealand Tests. Dravid leads the list with 6 hundreds.