Feb 5, 2014
Following a 0-4 defeat in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs), India take on New Zealand in the first Test at Eden Park, Auckland. In many ways, India’s fortunes are quite similar to their tour to South Africa in December 2013. They were thrashed in the ODIs 2-0, before making a good recovery in Tests, only to lose it due to a few bad sessions in Durban. This time, they look to begin another away Test series with the home of securing a victory.
After the defeat in ODIs, the question is: whether the Indians can beat the Kiwis? This would have been a baseless argument before the series, but New Zealand looks in supreme confidence to allow any room for the Indians. In the first Test at Auckland, swing is going to be a major factor for both the Indian batsmen and the bowlers. The batsmen need to negate the formidable Kiwi pace attack led by Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner in their ranks. Meanwhile the Indian pacers, with spearhead Zaheer Khan at the forefront, will be eager to exploit the conditions.
Under overcast conditions, it’s likely to be a ‘win the toss bowl first’ situation for both captains and with such windy weather, the pacers would be critical for both teams.
As far as the team selections are concerned, Indians are most likely to go with a similar line-up to the one that played the last Test against South Africa. Shikhar Dhawan will once again get an opportunity to prove himself along with Murali Vijay at the top. The certainties and the backbone of Indian batting: Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane look set in the middle.
India may only find problems in picking the pace attack. With Zaheer and Mohammed Shami certain to play, it would be interesting to see if Dhoni, opts for Ishwar Pandey — who had an impressive start in the warm-up match. There’s a case for Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s inclusion as well under the windy conditions and the swing on offer. By cricketing logic, Ishant Sharma shouldn’t play the first Test, but one never knows.
For New Zealand, things look good with a well set pace attack and a stable top-order with veteran Peter Fulton and an equally reliable 26-year-old Hamish Rutherford opening the batting. India’s first stumbling block could be the No 3 for New Zealand i.e. Kane Williamson followed by Ross Taylor. Skipper Brendon McCullum, Corey Anderson and wicketkeeper batsman BJ Watling will follow Taylor. With the pace bowling of Anderson, New Zealand have four fast bowling options with Southee, Wagner and Boult — which allows them to include the leg-spinner Ish Sodhi. Considering India’s susceptibility against pace, McCullum might even consider including a full-pace attack with Doug Bracewell in the XI.
There’s a forecast of rain in Auckland and as mentioned earlier, the overcast conditions could make a huge difference. Moreover, the drop-in pitches could have uneven bounce initially — assisting the pacers. After the initial two days, the conditions might ease up for batting. Not to forget that coach Mike Hesson is still eager to test the Indians with short balls.
India have a challenge ahead of them and it would be interesting to see how they live up to it. The last time around, in 2009, they defeated a weaker Kiwi team 1-0 in tests but this time, it’s not a walkover. June 2011 was the last time the Indians won an away Test match. It’s time Dhoni and his team sets the record straight away before it becomes a psychological scar.
New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (c), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Jesse Ryder, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling (wk), Kane Williamson
India: MS Dhoni (c & wk), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishwar Pandey, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.
Time: 22:00 GMT | 03:30 IST
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)
Also on cricketcountry.com