New Zealand's two Tests against England before the World Test Championship final against India could end up creating workload management issues for the Black Caps, feels the Kiwis longest-serving coach Mike Hesson. In an interview to PTI, Hesson also had some advice for the Indian team: Go with Mayank Agarwal in the opening slot instead of retaining the set combination of Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill.
COVID-19 related restrictions have left India with limited preparation time ahead of the final beginning June 18 while New Zealand will have the advantage of playing two games against England before the first-ever WTC title clash in Southampton. Hesson doesn't agree with that assessment.
"It is an issue (playing three Tests with a four-day gap in between). New Zealand will have to look at the bowling attack and that's potentially why Trent Boult will play this game (second Test against England from Thursday," he pointed out.
"That will give one of those other quicks to rest potentially, because it's only four days between each Test. So, three on the bounce is a big deal, especially if you put in 45 to 50 overs in the second Test, or they just decide to manage the workloads which is not something you usually do going into a Test match," he said.
The 46-year-old, who coached New Zealand from 2012-2018, also backed Rishabh Pant to provide the x-factor like he did on the memorable tour of Australia earlier this year and is in favour of a best of three WTC final in the long run.
One of New Zealand's most successful coaches who is now currently director of cricket at the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Hesson expects Rohit and Gill to open but wants Agarwal, who lost his spot in the eleven after two Tests in Australia, to be given a chance.
Agarwal was the team's leading run-getter in the away series against New Zealand last year when India lost 0-2 and was only one of the four Indian batsmen to get a half-century in an otherwise difficult campaign. "They will probably go with Rohit and Shubman but I think Mayank needs to be considered. He has faced the New Zealand attack in New Zealand, where he would have got some crucial experience," said Hesson.
On India's preparation going into the final compared to New Zealand, he said, "Look match practice is always useful. You know every ground is different though."
"Southampton is quite unique in terms of its ground so sure match practice is helpful. But India have got a big enough squad to where they can have intra squad games to get some training done out in the middle so I think come the first day of the final, I don't think it will be a big deal," he added.
While most experts see the match going New Zealand's way if the ball is moving at the Aegeas Bowl but Hesson predicted an even contest. "How both top orders deal with the moving ball will be key. The Dukes ball will swing and it will seam a little bit for a period of time. And I think if the top orders are able to blunt that out from either side then they'll get a distinct advantage," he said.
"...it will be a fair cricket wicket and the ball will offer something for everybody. The spinners always like the Dukes, because it's got that high seam, there will be cross breeze so it will swing a little bit.
"And with the Dukes, there will be a little bit of seam on offer at least for the first 10 overs with, with each new ball so every batsman will be will be challenged," he explained.
Hesson thinks the Indian fast bowlers, including the reserves, will provide good preparation to their batsmen against the moving ball. With the spinners expected to come into play later in the game, Hesson said R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja must play alongside three pacers. For New Zealand, he sees four pacers in the side alongside Colin de Grandhomme or Mitchell Santer.
"That (Ashwin and Jadeja) gives India a really good balance. It gives you five frontline bowlers which means you can attack both left and right-handers and New Zealand have got five left-handers and six- right-handers..."
Hesson expects Pant to bat at six and do what he did in Australia. "I think he's more confident, more settled on the international stage now. Therefore, he's able to play the way he wants to play. He has earned enough credit within his team as well. He also does the hard work first, so it's not a reckless play. He allows himself that chance to show a bit of flair, which we all enjoy watching," the former Blackcaps coach said.
Talking about the Blackcaps' performance in the drawn first Test against England, Hesson wasn't surprised to see South Africa-born Devon Conway play the way he did en route to a double century on debut. He was also impressed with the timing of Williamson's declaration on day five to force a result, something New Zealand "might have not done in the past".
"No surprises there at all. We were just waiting for him (Conway) to qualify (to play for NZ) and since he got introduced in the white-ball format, he was always going to play (Tests). "It was tough on Tom Blundell, having started so well at the top of the order but Conway is too good a player to leave out."
Hesson concluded by supporting India head coach Ravi Shastri's views on the WTC final format going forward. "If it is to be considered a pinnacle event then time needs to be made in cricket calendar for a best of three final."