India Start Next Phase of Test Championship as Favorites
February 20 2020
India are clear favorites as they take on New Zealand in the first Test at the Basin Reserve. However the rumor is that the wicket will be a flattie, and will be hard work for the bowling units of both teams. What a difference from the bouncy green "Wonderbra" wickets that New Zealand used to routinely prepare for Indian Tests in the past. The quality of the Indian quicks makes that a very risky proposition and so the Home board has understandably gone away for those type of wickets...
India continue with the next phase of their campaign in the ICC Test Championship. To date, they have been perfect. In the three series they have played so far they won ALL Tests against West Indies in West Indies, and against South Africa and Bangladesh at home. Now begins the tougher second half the campaign with Test Series in New Zealand and Australia, followed by a home series against England.
Based on India’s winning formula so far, which has relied on a fast bowling attack that is arguably the best in the world, this should not be so daunting from a bowling point of view. What is of concern is how India’s batsmen are prepared for the New Zealand conditions. Though if rumors are to be believed the New Zealanders have prepared a flat wicket (gasp!) to blunt the Indian quicks...never mind that it will blunt their bowlers too.
Virat Kohli and his men have had the fortune of playing a T20i and an ODI series before the Test series, allowing for most of the batsmen to acclimatize themselves to Antipodean conditions. Even the players not in the team for these two series, i.e. Pujara, Rahane, Gill, and Shaw have played in the India A side in red ball cricket getting themselves prepped for this series. BCCI to its credit this time has not dropped the Test team into the series, with no warm-ups. Instead quite the opposite. So if Indian batting stutters there will be no excuses about inadequate preparation.
Ishant Sharma joining the team after recovering from a serious ankle injury is good news. He has been amazing ever since playing in South Africa over two years ago. Whatever, the reason for it, whether the attacking fields and intent Kohli has entrusted him with instead of the defensive run restricting role Dhoni had in mind, the skills he learned in County cricket, especially under the tutelage of Jason Gillispie, or simply the clarity of mind that comes with no longer having to focus on multiple formats, and being assigned the role of leader of the pack in Test matches, Sharma has been a revelation. Since the beginning of 2018 he is taking wickets at a strike rate of 42.8 per wicket… This is the territory of all time greats. Now he is supported by a lethal trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, and Umesh Yadav, to form a quartet that in terms of lethality in the past 2-3 years has been the best in the world.
On top of this India have riches to chose from in the spin department with Jadeja and Ashwin both being superlative with the ball. Ashwin being just behind the legendary Muralitharan as the bowler with most wickets after X Tests… and Jadeja being the left armer with most wickets after X Tests ahead of names like Herath, Bedi, and Underwood as spinners, but also Akram, Strac, and Johnson as pacers. If the old cricket adage of play your best bowlers regardless of conditions were followed both should be picked. But with the riches in the pace department that is not likely.
Even in the wicket keeping department India has two terrific choices. The unflashy but supremely efficient Wridhimman Saha or the potential match winner, boy wonder Rishab Pant. The only area of uncertainty is the opening partnership where the stalwarts, Dhawan and Rohit are unavailable and young Mayank Agarwal will partner with either Shubman Gill or Prithvi Shaw, who were part of the U19 world cup winning squad of 2018 who have since only bolstered their claims for higher honors. Gill has a First Class double century in New Zealand against New Zealand A, while Shaw currently averages over 100 in Test cricket albeit in only two matches against West Indies.
New Zealand meanwhile will be a somewhat under pressure side. After their embarrassing shellacking by Australia in Australia they are pretty low on the Test Championship Points Table, though they can never be discounted in their home conditions.
India start as clear favorites, but New Zealand are by no means pushovers, and may surprise the visitors especially if they lift their game compared to the shambolic show they put up in Australia. India will be looking to win the series 2-0 but will settle for a 1-0 series win.pqs: qs:
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