Umesh Yadav could have made way for Bhuvneshwar Kumar whereas Rohit Sharma could have been replaced by Amit Mishra in India's Playing XI © AFP
Umesh Yadav could have made way for Bhuvneshwar Kumar whereas Rohit Sharma could have been replaced by Amit Mishra in India’s Playing XI © AFP

The dust finally settled on India’s much awaited home season when India and New Zealand came to battle it out at Green Park, Kanpur for the first of the three-Test series. While both the teams sweated it out at the nets before the start of the series, media and the fans (and of course, the cricketers) were looking forward to India’s historic feat of being the fourth team to play 500th Test. Virat Kohli won the toss and elected to bat with the turf being conducive to batting. India’s famed batting line-up were expected to come on top of an inexperienced New Zealand’s bowling attack but the script turned out to be completely different.

Being quick learners, or in cricketing terms, ‘good students of the game’, New Zealand did the unthinkable by restricting India to 318, reading the conditions well. Soft dismissals, Trent Boult’s amazing new-ball expertise and some tactical brilliance by New Zealand took India by surprise. In reply, New Zealand came out to bat with a purpose and continued their dominance on Day Two. Losing Martin Guptill early, New Zealand mended things nonchalantly. Kane Williamson stood his end and gave valuable support to young Tom Latham. The duo added 117 runs for the second wicket as day’s play ended early due to rain. Not discarding the fact that New Zealand have done their homework well of the surface, India looked bewildered. India have only themselves to blame for their lackluster performance, but the blunder was made before the match even started.

Execution ditched India: The turf in Green Park was expected to be efficient for run making in the first few days. Like a normal track witnessed in India, the pitch was expected to turn in the last two days. Kohli, on the other hand, won the toss and elected to bat with no hesitation. India came out with six proper batsmen, a specialist wicketkeeper-batsman and four bowlers. The composition of bowlers consisted of two seamers and two spinners. The plan was out in the open. India wanted to capitalise on the toss and score a mammoth total. ALSO READ: Reason behind Sehwag and Dravid’s absence from India’s 500th Test felicitation ceremony

Six batsmen and a wicketkeeper-batsman gave India extra impetus to go all out at the New Zealand attack. Kohli and his men were expected to pile up at least 500 and ouster the visitors from the match by depending on their menacing spin pair of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. But not everything goes according to plans. Execution is not tem used frequently but it has a lot of meaning. Execution went missing with India as their batsmen played reckless shots coupled with a disciplined bowling effort from the Kiwis; the result is there to be seen by all.

There are two parts to India’s struggle in the ongoing Test. Kohli has undoubtedly gone wrong with his team selection. There are two aspects to viewing the team combination of the hosts. India came with six batsmen with Rohit Sharma being one them. It is an outdated fact now that Rohit’s Test career has been marred with inconsistent performances. More often than not, Rohit has got vital starts and thrown them outrageously. Seeing this, it was risky to depend on the 6-batsman strategy.

Why was the local lad ignored? The biggest setback was that New Zealand concentrated hard to dismiss India’s best batsman Kohli for 9. Kohli’s deputy Ajinkya Rahane was another wicket that hurt the progress of India. Rahane usually binds the lower-order efficiently, soaking the pressure. The twin dismissals ensured India ended at least 50-60 runs less than what they should have. Other batsmen got proper starts, but soft dismissals pushed the team on the back foot.

Another big aspect that probably hurt India was their baffling decision to not pick local boy Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Ishant Sharma’s injury opened the doors for Bhuvneshwar, as he came in contention with Mohammed Shami to fill in the pacers place. Nonetheless, India chose Umesh on a venue where overcast conditions could have assisted a better swing bowler like Bhuvneshwar. ALSO READ: IND Vs NZ 1st Test, Day 2: Rain plays spoilsport as Kiwis dominate

For those who have forgotten, Bhuvneshwar played a single match in India’s tour of West Indies last month and won India the match which was moving towards a tame draw. The situation was the same there with rain playing spoilsport which assisted swing. Of course, swing will not be a big factor in Kanpur but the ball did swing a bit on Day Two and may continue to, to some extent, with conditions on offer.

Being a mature batsman with good technique, Bhuvneshwar could also have added 25-30 runs more. Being the local boy, he is more akin to the conditions and would have fitted to the scheme of things swiftly. Umesh and Shami are similar bowlers, difficult to play on bouncy wickets with Shami reverse-swinging later in the match. Shami is not a bad selection by any means but India could have easily played the 26-year-old.

How many bowlers are optimal? Kohli has quite vocal on that he prefers five bowlers to win him Tests. However, he surprised everyone by opting for four. Amit Mishra is another player whose exclusion may play a part if things turn bleak for the home team. Latham and Williamson play with aplomb against Indian spinners. Both cut, pulled, swept and drove with skill, and showed excellent temperament. However, before showers interrupted the day’s play, there were signs of the duo struggling against Ashwin and Jadeja. ALSO READ: IND vs NZ, 1st Test: The Tom Latham approach to Test cricket

There are enough cracks on the surface that will make things tough for the team batting fourth. New Zealand are aware that spin will be decisive in the outcome and would want to push India on the backseat. It is too early to predict, but Mishra’s inclusion could have at least kept Kohli at ease with three spinners against a batting line-up dependent on two or three batsmen. If one of the two spinners playing in the match has an off-day, Kohli could have resorted to Mishra. Of course, there is plenty of action left (unless rain continues to rule the roost) in the Test, and Ashwin and Jadeja have enough firepower to rattle the Kiwis line-up on the concluding days. ALSO READ: India vs New Zealand Preview & Predictions 1st Test, Day 3, 2016: Hosts under pressure

Kohli seems to have missed a few tricks by opting for six batsmen. India are the ones trailing in the match. New Zealand have dominated since the first session of the Test. India’s team management are certainly aware of the fact that the team selection went for a toss, causing their slide.

(Aditya Sahay is a journalist with CricketCountry who is completely into sports and loves writing about cricket in general. He can be followed on Twitter at adisahay7)