A refreshing home season begins for Team India on September 22nd, when they take on the touring Kiwis in the 1st India v New Zealand Test match at Kanpur. The Indian Test team can be expected to be in buoyant spirits following their series victory in West Indies last month, which catapulted them to No 2 in the ICC Test Rankings. New Zealand, on the other hand, received a drubbing at the hands of the Proteas when they lost the Test series 1-0 during their tour to South Africa.
The track is expected to have lots of cracks, which nevertheless promise to hold up during the 5 days. Besides, the dryness of the pitch is something that Test matches in Kanpur have been accustomed to. The curator has expressed confidence in the fact that even though there would be substantial amount of turn in the track, the two sides shall have a balanced fight in the middle. It is being surmised that the turn would not be as enormous as it was in Nagpur, against South Africa, last year. Reverse swing can also be expected at high pace, and it remains to be seen whether Virat Kohli chooses to go with Umesh Yadav to exploit this feature.
Barring Stuart Binny and Shardul Thakur, India have chosen the same set of 15 players which had toured West Indies a couple of months ago. Even though some spots in the batting line up remain predictable, it would be interesting to see who among K L Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay are chosen to open the innings. Rahul’s fantastic run of form in the last few months stands in sharp contrast to the fading aggression of Dhawan. It remains to be seen whether India break the left-right opening combination of Dhawan and Vijay in order to give Rahul a much deserved opportunity on the big stage. In the bowling department, it is probably going to be a 2 spinners-3 seamers combination. With Ishant Sharma out of contention because of illness, the choice between Shami and Umesh needs to be made by the captain.
Even though the odds of beating India in their own backyard seem to be stacked against the Kiwis, it would be a folly to take them lightly. After all, it was just 6 months ago that Kiwi spinners had befuddled the powerful Indian team in the T20 World Cup 2016 and dismissed the hosts for a paltry 79 in a chase of 127.
Tim Southee’s unfortunate last minute injury during a training session may have been a slight setback for the tourists, but their spin department remains a potent threat for the Indian batsmen. Both Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner have quality records against top opponents, and a rank turner at Kanpur can be their ideal platform to take the fight to India. Off spinner Harbhajan Singh has warned against preparing a rank turner, hinting at chances of the move backfiring on India. And quite rightly so, for when England toured India in 2012 a lone-ranger Monty Panesar had created quite a wobble for the hosts!