Wellington: India is currently the number one Test side in the world and no team is even close to them in World Test championship as far as points are concerned. Yet, starting Friday, against New Zealand, India won’t find it easy to win the first Test.
“India should be a bit concerned that some of their top players (Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah) are not going into the series in great form. However, the presence of (Cheteshwar) Pujara, (Ajinkya) Rahane and (Ravichandaran) Ashwin will make a difference,” says former Kiwi wicket-keeper Ian Smith.
Kohli may not have scored a hundred in white-ball cricket for over six months but his Test form has been terrific.
“Just a couple of blips for him in the ODI and T20 series. The pressure on Kohli is to score in every game. He still has led the side well and some of the others players have stepped up when he didn’t score,” argues former New Zealand all-rounder Craig McMillan.
In fact, the former New Zealand batting coach says that the Indian captain is right up there with the best batsmen of any era.
“Virat is right up there with Lara, Tendulkar and Pontings in the all-time list. Just look at his numbers, the averages and hundreds he has scored. I never thought somebody could even get close to Sachin’s 100 hundreds. Intensity and real hunger to score runs is something other players can’t match him,” says McMillan.
One of India’s dilemmas in team selection is whom to pick as their first-choice wicketkeeper in the first Test. The team management has often used logic according to their own convenience whenever they decided to prefer one over the other.
There is a possibility that Rishabh Pant might make it to the playing XI in the first Test ahead of Wriddhiman Saha, because of the former’s superior batting skills.
“We will hear a lot about Pant in the future. The team management has been teaching a lot of things regarding patience. He will be very hungry as he didn’t get a game in the white-ball formats,” says Smith.
In the absence of all-rounder Hardik Pandya, the team’s balance has got a bit complicated in Tests. India may miss the services of Pandya severely especially in this series.
“It’s difficult to be a fast bowling all-rounder in the modern times. Pandya has been an outstanding player for India and is a missing link in this Indian side. He is such a key player, especially in places like Australia, England and here in New Zealand,” says McMillan, who has been one of the commentators for the series.
However, most experts believe that India starts the two-match series as favourites even though New Zealand haven’t lost a Test at home for nearly three years.
“I think India will start as the favourites because of their ranking and kind of players they have got. Earlier pitch curators would easily leave a lot of grass to make Indian attack a bit less effective as their traditional strength was spin bowling. However, now they can’t afford to do that as India have brought their best ever pace attack in New Zealand,” argues Smith.
India won their last Test series in NZ almost a decade back in 2009. That win too came after a massive gap of 42 years, after India’s first ever away win in 1967-68 season.