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Auckland: Feb 5, 2014
Hoping that Indian batsmen would be flummoxed by in-form leg-spinner Ish Sodhi, New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum resisted the “temptation” to have four seamers and named an unchanged team for the first Test of the two-match series starting in Auckland on February 6.
New Zealand named an unchanged XI from the side that beat the West Indies recently to face India in the first Test.
“We are naming an unchanged eleven, which is reward for the consistency we have shown against the West Indies,” said McCullum.
“There’s always that temptation to play four seamers on a green pitch but it’s a tough ask on your number three batsman to go in as your first spinner. Also Ish (Sodhi) has done a pretty good job and as a wrist spinner, even if the pitch doesn’t offer a great deal of spin, he should be able to get something out of it,” he added in the pre-match press conference.
The Eden Park pitch has a lively tinge of green and the Ludhiana-born leg-spinner Ish Sodhi will face his toughest challenge yet when he plays against India in this Test.
“It’s got a decent covering of grass, albeit funny looking grass at one end. It looks hard as well so we expect a bit more bounce than what there was against England (in March 2013) and hopefully there’s a bit of pace as well. I don’t expect a huge amount of sideways movement but there may just be enough,” said the New Zealand skipper.
“India have got some seamers that can ask some tough questions if the ball does go sideways. It’s no surprise that these conditions should suit us better than them. They’re used to more skiddier wickets where reverse swing comes in. With no wicket block with the drop in wicket and a bit of a tinge in the wicket, hopefully we get some bounce and pace. We’ve still got to execute and bowl well,” he added.
Talking about Sodhi in the playing XI, McCullum said he is hoping for the bowler to do justice to his talent.
“He’s young but he’s incredibly talented and hence he’ll continue to get opportunities. He’s a guy that can have a real impact for his country over the next decade or so,” he said.
“You’ve got to be patient with leg spinners but we think he’s got a bit of x-factor. I anticipate the Indian batsmen, who are very good players of spin, will try to put Ish under pressure. But I’m confident he’ll come through.”
The Indian batting line-up is short on experience in Test cricket with the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar in late November.
Even though the transformed line-up put up a good display in the previous tour to South Africa, it did not evoke the same fear as the past batting line-ups used to.
“They are very good players and a lot of them are proven players. They’re not the Tendulkars, Laxmans or Dravids, but they’re outstanding in their own right. Virat Kohli is one of the best players in the world,” McCullum said.
“We know how tough a challenge it is but we’ve got a quiet confidence that if we bowl and field as well as we have this summer then we can expose some not so strong aspects of their play,” he asserted.
“Pujara too is an excellent player. His statistics are very impressive and he’s been a real rock for them. We have to make sure that we hang in there long enough against a guy of his quality,” he added.
McCullum is hoping that his pacers would be as effective as they were in the 4-0 sweep of the One Day International (ODI) series.
“The pace and the bounce will ask some different questions of him and we have to make sure we execute and keep nagging in that area against him,” he said.
Kohli was burdened in the ODIs as the rest of the batsmen did not put their hand up. While he has Pujara to share his load in the Test series, even so, New Zealand will be very buoyed by the 4-0 result they were able to achieve in the preceding ODI series.
“We’ve played some good cricket at home recently and this is another huge opportunity to really stamp our mark on the summer with two really good performances. Every game we play is an acid test.
“We ticked that one off against West Indies and the next challenge is one we’ve all been looking forward to. After the success we’ve had recently, it’s good for the confidence of the group,” McCullum signed off.
New Zealand playing XI:
Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum (captain), Corey Anderson, BJ Watling, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult.
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