Prediction : They’ll come, see and conquer the hosts.
Consequence : Defeated, dejected and demoralized themselves.
Indian camp hasn’t tasted the least pinch of success halfway through the tour of New Zealand. However, come 6th of February at Auckland, and they’ll have other ideas. MS Dhoni and his side are all set to shed the coloured clothing to start afresh, as they prepare to take on the blackcaps in the 2-match test series.
After ending their sensational run of form on a sour note in the year gone by, Team India was eyeing an early triumph in 2014. They couldn’t have asked for a better setting – facing an inconsistent Kiwi outfit. However, what transpired next, only rubbed salt into their wounds. A 4 – 0 whitewash by an eighth-ranked side.
What will only tremble them even more, if at all, is that their ranking is on the line yet again, this time around in the Test circuit. Having lost it’s numero uno position in the 50-over format, India will look, at least, to protect its second spot in the ICC test rankings. But, it isn’t going to get any easier against an aggressive New Zealand side in their own backyard.
Indians clearly took the Kiwis lightly, and paid heavily for the same. They underestimated their potential only to get outperformed in every division of the sport. However, without any ado, they must guard themselves against complacency.
Indians haven’t been able to adapt to alien conditions ever since the English Summer in 2011. Perhaps, their moral victory lies in the fact that they infected the Englishmen of this disease which seems to have effectuated now, the 5-0 Ashes humiliation standing testimony. One may wonder why it took so long for the infection to wreck havoc. Well, Indian cricketing infections probably inspired by their slow pitches. Seriously speaking, at the highest level of play, acclimatizing is a must-have skill – a habit that needs to percolate in the Indian setup, that too, very quickly.
India come on the back of an intensely fought series loss against the Proteas. South African tour turned out to be fruitful and constructive, irrespective of the results. However, a loss here, against the eight-ranked test side, will raise more than a few eyebrows.
If the horror show in the ODIs is anything to go by, India have serious problems in the batting department, especially while countering the half-trackers. Shikhar Dhawan seems to have to have run out of his purple-patch, so to say. He has struggled to find the middle of the bat on more occasions than not. Moreover, he continues to attempt the pull shot, only to mistime it entirely. Ajinkya Rahane’s grievances aren’t too dissimilar either. Despite that, both will be handed a rope, in all probability. The twain being young needs more exposure. That said, they need to learn from their mistakes, as quickly as they can.
Contrastingly, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara are in the best of form. Indians will bank on them to excel in the seires. The 25-year old Pujara, averaging in excess of 66 after 17 matches with 6 test hundreds, brings in a sense of solidity and will act as a thorn in Kiwi foot. Kohli, with his impeccable consistency and elegance, will try to impose himself on the opposition. He was the lone ranger for India in the One –day series. However, others will have to step up, if India are to come back to winning ways.
M Vijay did grind it out in South Africa, displaying immense patience and temperament. Moreover, he would play as a perfect foil to an expressive Shikhar Dhawan at the top.
MS Dhoni, the skipper, hasn’t been aggressive enough for a test match skipper. He has been too adamant with certain tactics, which just dont pay off. Dhoni,the batsman, too needs some runs behind his belt, before his place in the test squad comes into further scrutiny. He has been out caught behind one too many times. He would strive to change it. Even, he acknowledged this weakness in the post-match press conference at Durban after the second test.
In the bowling department, Zaheer Khan’s addition brings in the much needed experience factor in the bowling lineup. Shami Ahmed is a no-brainer given his impressive showing in South Africa. Notwithstanding, he has a lot to introspect about after the repeated maulings he was subjected to in the just concluded ODI series.
Team India’s think-tank will have to choose between Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav for the third seamer. It will be quite interesting to see who gets the nod. Ishant has been off- colour for a while now and has even lost his place in the One-day XI. Bhuvneshwar may be a good pick in seaming conditions with his ability to move the ball both ways. Umesh, with raw pace, can hurry up the host batters. Ishwar Pandey may have to wait a little longer for his opportunity despite a 3-for in the tour game against New Zealand XI.
In the spin-bowling department, Ravindra Jadeja, yet again, may be preference over R Ashwin. Jadeja has practically become Dhoni’s go-to bowler in all circumstances. Registering figures of 6/138 at Durban against South Africa is no mean feat. Jadeja has only strengthened his contention as an all-rounder thanks to some seriously splendid innings down the order in the ODIs.
The Blackcaps, on the other hand, must be riding high on confidence after stunning India in the limited overs fixtures. They defied their critics, who often accuse them of inconsistency, by notching up back-to-back series wins over West Indies and India. New Zealand clearly enjoy playing in their home conditions, like all teams do. The most amazing aspect of their four wins over India was that all of them came about on sporting wickets. None of the one-day pitches featured a green deck; in fact two of them were dry, turning wickets – perfectly suited to the visitors. However, the hosts will prepare seaming strips in the test matches. They won’t be as fast and bouncy as in South Africa, but will definitely test the temperament of Indians, batsmen and bowlers, alike.
The fast-bowling troika of Trent Boult, Tim Southee, and Doug Bracewell may not match the fatality of Dale Steyn and co., but can inflict mass damage upon their adversaries. The trio brags of 223 scalps in 67 matches at a combined average of touch over 31. In the Ludhiana-born leg spinner Ish Sodhi, the bowling attack has the variety.
New Zealand sport a formidable, if not an extremely experienced batting lineup. Hamish Rutherford and BJ Watling are exciting young talents, right at the top of the batting hierarchy. Ross Taylor, Peter Fulton, Jesse Ryder, Kane Williamson and the skipper himself form the core. Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, particularly will be the key men for them, especially after the outstanding ODI series they had had.
It is well documented that Test cricket is a different ball game altogether. However, the basics remain the same across formats. Hence, it becomes imperative for Indians to apply themselves more purposefully in the middle. The seaming decks may turn out to be counter –productive for the hosts if the Indian fast bowling trio gets into the groove. This test series could well be a trailer of things to come for India in England and Australia. Indians will look to rekindle themselves, taking heart from their showing in South Africa. All in all, it promises to be a thrilling test of character of both the teams.
India – MS Dhoni(C), M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Wriddhiman Saha, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, IshwarPandey, Ishant Sharma.
New Zealand – Brendon McCulllum(C), BJ Watling, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Peter Fulton, Jesse Ryder, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Corey Anderson, Ish Sodhi, Neil Wagner