So far only one team remains undefeated in the World Test Championship, and that’s Virat Kohli’s India.
The Kiwis’ 3-0 ODI whitewash of India was entirely unexpected after the Indians had routed New Zealand 5-0 in the preceding T20 series.
Trading knockout punches in the two short formats of the game sets up the Test series beautifully. But what do these series foretell in the long form of the game?
A great feature of Virat Kohli’s Indian team over the past few years has been the potency of the bowling unit, composed of wicket-takers who have delivered at every part of the game. They have applied relentless pressure on the opposition’s batting unit, leading to their ultimate demise.
However, the bowling in this ODI series was been insipid. Even when they had the Kiwis in trouble in the second ODI, they let them get out and post a challenging total.
Having said all the above, we might be reading too much into the ODI performance. For starters, the Test bowling unit will have new personnel, and the game will be played in bowler-friendly conditions. When Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami join Jasprit Bumrah, the group could well produce very different performances.
However, things aren’t as straightforward as they look. Bumrah was not at his best in the ODI series. Even though he was economical, he did not look threatening, even with the new ball. The fact Martin Guptil, who has been in a long drought of runs, handled Bumrah quite well says something was not quite right with his bowling.
Ishant is returning to international cricket after an injury. Umesh’s ordinary bowling record in SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) has been a mystery of its own. Shami seems to be the only banker going into the Test series. Not exactly the fearsome fast bowling unit they were a few months back!
Opening batting isn’t solid
If one took a cursory look at India’s excellent performances in overseas Test matches in recent years, a recurring theme would be the strong start provided by the openers. They did an excellent job in the last year’s famous series win in Australia.
If the solidity of the openers is a crucial variable in India’s success, then how does the current opening pair look?
For now, it seems Mayank Agrawal will open the innings with Prithvi Shaw. Mayank has looked out of sorts in the India ‘A’ games in New Zealand and also in the three ODIs. Prithvi is yet to prove himself in international cricket. So, straight away, they’re looking at an unsure start to the innings for the first Test in Wellington.
New Zealand’s bowling attack will seek to remove the openers cheaply and have a crack at the middle order with a newish ball. How the opening pair will go in these Tests will determine India’s success.
Virat Kohli is the talismanic cricketer of the team. When in full flow, he intimidates the opponents and often leads his side to victory.
However, his form has been quite subdued against New Zealand. Tim Southee spoke about having discovered a chink in Virat’s armour. Leg-spinners have castled him quite often in recent times, albeit mainly in ODIs, and he’ll no doubt be working to overcome these troubles.
How well the skipper goes will go some way to determining the Tests.