Virat Kohli and co. will look to draw first blood at Kanpur © AFP
Virat Kohli and co. will look to draw first blood at Kanpur © AFP

After a satisfying 2-0 win in the Caribbean, that gave them the chance to wear the Test crown only for it to be snatched by their arch rivals Pakistan, India will begin again. Victories at North Sound and Gros Islet, backed by sizzling performances from the Virat Kohli-led Test side, gave India a comfortable margin of win against West Indies. With a home Test season to unfold all its magic, awaiting, India now eye sheer dominance. New Zealand, as first of plenty of visitors for the hosts this year, however, cannot be underestimated at any cost, despite the fact that Kane Williamson‘s Test side, are coming after a 0-1 loss to South Africa. With a historic 500th Test for India, at Kanpur, now only hours away, the final preparations are underway. Now, before the coin goes for a flip, and the signal gets green for play to begin, at Green Park, let’s figure out what could be India’s likely XI, as they begin with their Test dream to conquer.

Top Order: The stiff competition in the Indian Test team, as of now, lies in its top-order. Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul are the three candidates for the job. While Vijay, who injured himself in West Indies, and could not feature in two Tests, returns, with all his experience and his impressive Test record; Dhawan knows another failure with the bat, could send him packing out of the team. “Jaan lagaani hai, dum lagaana hai apni jagah rakhne ke liye [One needs to give it all to keep his place in the side],” Dhawan knows he has no option but to perform.

Capitalising on their worries, has been Rahul, someone who has been in ‘Carpe Diem’ mode, with every chance that he has got. Australia, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, West Indies and the USA, wherever Rahul has toured, he has come back with a hundred. Now he would like to get one in his country. And therefore, a tough choice for the opening slot awaits Anil Kumble and Kohli. READ: India vs New Zealand, 1st Test at Kanpur, Preview & Predictions: Hosts eye winning start

At No.3 though, will return Cheteshwar Pujara. Questions about his dipping form, knack of getting out poorly, and failure to play a big innings, were best answered by him in the concluded Duleep Trophy. 166, 31 and an unbeaten 256, were his scores in the tournament. A rejuvenated Pujara now, is all set to make his presence known at home.

“I did get disappointed but I never let my confidence down. I knew it was just a matter of time. I am in a positive frame of mind after the Duleep Trophy. Those runs will definitely help me in the upcoming series against New Zealand. I don’t think I need to worry much about my batting now. I just need to stay focused,” he said to EspnCricinfo. You can surely expect him to be one of the top run-scorers in the Test series. READ: India’s 500-Test history: 10 greatest moments

Middle Order: In the post-match interview after the third Test against West Indies, Kohli’s plans, it looked like, had no place for Pujara. The Indian captain, then was willing to show faith in Rohit Sharma and with him coming in, he was even ready to sacrifice his No.4 position and come further up. But now with Pujara striking form, prior to the Test series, Kohli might again be back to his normal position. A cricketer who is always looking to improve and give it all for his team, Kohli will want to shine and contribute. Expect him to put on show.

At No.5 will be Ajinkya Rahane, someone who has come out as the Test side’s backbone. Rahane’s class has been evident in some way or the other in every Test that he has played so far. Not only with the bat, will his contribution be vital for India, but also his tremendous slip-catching will be crucial, especially because the pitches in the series, are expected to turn, and the spinners will find the edges every now and then.

The No.6 spot will be taken up by wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha. Saha was very good in West Indies, and took a big step towards cementing his role as India’s only wicketkeeper-batsman in the format. A couple of stumpings, and catches, along with a fine hundred that rescued India from a tough situation, have displayed that maturity on his part. The best thing for him is, he has earned Kohli’s vote of confidence. And a captain’s faith is a huge bonus for someone like Saha at this stage of his career.

Lower Order and Bowling: Ravindra Jadeja might then come in at No.7. Jadeja, is coming after a fantastic performance in the Duleep Trophy Final for India Blue, where he took 10 wickets.; surely a confidence-booster before a home season. Will Jadeja’s difficult-to-pick straighter one haunt New Zealand or not, that will have to be seen, but he will certainly have to improve his batting. Crucial runs lower down the order can be very handy, and Jadeja will have to apply himself a bit more at the crease for that. READ: India vs New Zealand: Ravindra Jadeja’s opportunity to glory as all-rounder

Meanwhile, Kumble’s experiment of promoting Ravichandran Ashwin as a batsman, up the order in West Indies, reaped great benefits for the team. Ashwin, continued his romance with the bat against West Indies, and scored a couple of hundreds; almost proving why he is Kumble’s future investment. With the ball, he was world-class as well. Ashwin’s 17 wickets, was what put West Indies, on their knees then. New Zealand will be a tougher challenge for him. His wily variations and accuracy might take him to the No.1 ranked Test bowler, if he stars against Williamson’s team. Breaking New Zealand’s game-plan will be a bit tougher for Ashwin, and he will be fully aware of that. READ: Ravichandran Ashwin: India’s Test sensation

Amit Mishra too might get in a place, keeping in mind the track at Kanpur. A dry pitch with cracks on it, might lead Kohli to go-in with three spinners. Mishra is, as of now the best leg-spinner India has. His fusion along with Jadeja and Ashwin will have to write India’s script for the Test series at home. His batting too has been highly commendable. For someone who loves to express himself with the bat, and score runs quickly, Mishra has time and again entertained with his batting lower-down the order.

The pair of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami had what was an excellent outing in the West Indies, before the Test season at home began. Both showed signs of their abilities to swing the bowl and looking penetrating. Shami’s pace and Bhuvneshwar’s swing, will be India’s ‘new-ball’ weapons in the upcoming series. With Ishant Sharma now ruled out of the first Test due to chikungunya, it becomes even more obvious that Shami and Bhuvneshwar will be India’s frontline seamers. How they master reverse-swing will be worth watching though.

Kohli though, in the press conference prior to the match, had indicated playing four bowlers, and strengthening the batting. In that case, Rohit might bat at No.6, which then would shift others further down, and either of Shami or Bhuvneshwar will play. Or, it could be a two seamer-two spinner attack.

India’s Likely XI: Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan/KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami.

(Karan Dewana reporter with CricketCountry, loves following and playing sports. He is a Team India fan and loves winning. Follow him on his twitter handle @karan13dewan)