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India hungry for points against resurgent New Zealand

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Roar Guru
17th February, 2020
3

So far only one team remains undefeated in the World Test Championship, and that’s Virat Kohli’s India.

The Indian national side first travelled to the West Indies in August 2019 for a two-Test series, thrashing the Windies with ease. The Indians then hosted South Africa and Bangladesh for a three and two-Test series respectively and won all five matches without breaking a sweat.

Currently India are on top of the World Test Championship with 360 points and will be chasing another 120 points in what is set to be an interesting Test series against New Zealand.

India have already had a minor setback, with Rohit Sharma ruled out due to a calf injury sustained in the T20 series against the Black Caps. This has forced the Indian selectors to recall Prithvi Shaw. Before the series starts on Friday, here are my questions for the Indian side.

Virat Kohli

(Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

1. Who opens alongside Mayank Agarwal?
Prithvi Shaw played two Tests around 16 months ago against West Indies. Since then an ankle injury while fielding at the SCG and a failed doping test saw him out of the Test side for a considerable time. Does he slot back in straight away or does Shubman Gill get a shot? Gill has a better first-class record than Shaw and scored runs for India A in red-ball matches against New Zealand a a few weeks ago. But in a three-dayer against a New Zealand XI Gill amassed only nine runs in two innings. It will be interesting to see who gets the nod between two very talented youngsters.

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2. Saha’s keeping or Pant’s batting?
In terms of pure glovework, Wriddhiman Saha is just behind Tim Paine when it comes to best gloveman in the world. Since his injury he has done a fine job behind the stumps for India. On the other hand you have a very talented Rishabh Pant, who is a far better batsman than Saha. His wicketkeeping is still developing, but having someone at seven averaging in the mid-40s with centuries in Australia and England? I think that’s what’ll lead to Pant having an edge over Saha as India’s gloveman this series.

Pant also scored 70 and took three catches behind the stumps in their tour game, meaning the Indian team management is leaning towards the 22-year-old. I would have Pant as keeper for India outside of Asia while Saha would stay in Tests in Asia.

3. Six batsmen or five bowlers?
In New Zealand pitches haven’t deteriorated as much on Days 4 and 5, leading to high-scoring third and fourth-innings totals. With no Hardik Pandya in the squad, India playing five bowlers could be risky. None of their seamers can bat that well, although Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami can smack a quickfire 30 off ten, as they’ve shown in the past.

On the other hand, Hanuma Vihari has been in top-notch form for India A and the Test series when given the chance. I think India will go with four bowlers in the side, with Vihari bowling some part-time offies if the quicks need a break.

Hardik Pandya bowling for India.

(Philip Brown/Getty Images)

The Black Caps have named a 13-man squad today, and I suspect their side will be very similar to the one they fielded in the Boxing Day Test. They will be looking to get back on track in the World Test Championship and restore some pride back in the Black Caps Test jersey after the battering they received in Australia.

India have a very solid pace and spin attack and the stats back it up. In 2018 their bowlers managed to take 255 out of a possible 260 wickets, failing to bowl out their opposition only twice when their opposition declared. In 2019 they took 130 out of 140 possible scalps as they failed to bowl out their opposition only once due to good old Sydney weather. Their pace battery is fit and very disciplined.

The Black Caps are also a very strong bowling unit at home and will be relying on swing more than pace.

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It’ll be a very even and tight series, with both sides controlling the Tests at times. However, whoever seizes control of the key moments will win this series, and that’s why India have the upper hand, with all of their batsmen and bowlers capable of grabbing the opportunity to take their team to victory.

The Black Caps are a very good side, especially at home, but I think India will win this two-Test series 1-0.

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Predicted India XI
Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (captain) Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.

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Predicted New Zealand XI
Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wicketkeeper), Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee, Ajaz Patel, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult.