Spin set to rule the roost as India welcome their talismanic skipper

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02 Dec 2021 | 08:39 AM
authorBastab K Parida

Spin set to rule the roost as India welcome their talismanic skipper

Mayank Agarwal may make way for Virat Kohli as Ajinkya Rahane's spot comes under scanner

Playing in India has always been a deafening proposition for many touring sides over the years. It is a legacy-building exercise - where a successful series can put you among the pantheon of sporting greats or a failure to seize the moment would forever put a question mark on your quality. Kane Williamson would know. As would Joe Root or Steve Smith. Three of the greatest batsmen of our era had a very contrasting experience of touring the country - and the Kiwi skipper would want to divert the discourse in his favour in Mumbai. 

On the other hand, India would be bolstered by the return of their talismanic skipper, Virat Kohli, who rested himself for the T20Is followed by the Kanpur Test. It was a much-needed break for Kohli who had been overworked like many of his teammates in the last six months, with little to no rest on offer. A time off would have created some space in his head which the new Indian team management would like to have a bonus with the side striding for bigger challenges ahead in the coming months.

However, this is World Test Championship. After a demanding draw in the first Test, India currently have a PCT of 50%, and anything less than a win would put their place in danger with the team set to travel to South Africa pretty soon. With Pakistan and Australia having comparatively easier challenges in their way to the final, India would want to seal the deal and raise the PCT in the process.

The ultimate do-or-die situation for Rahane

Almost four years ago, when India toured South Africa, Ajinkya Rahane was going through a lean patch, averaging less than 10 against Sri Lanka in a three-match series at home. He was eventually dropped for the Cape Town Test, with Rohit Sharma taking his role in the middle-order. Four years down the line, a lot has changed for Team India and at the same time, many things haven’t. While Rohit has established himself as one of the finest Test openers in world cricket, Rahane continues to fumble. 

In 2021, Rahane averages just 19.57 in 12 matches, and with Cheteshwar Pujara not firing enough, it has become some sort of a conundrum. Shreyas Iyer’s emergence and Virat Kohli’s return have put enough pressure on Rahane but the incessant backing from the team management, including Rahul Dravid, may side the sword of Damocles for a while. In such a situation, Mayank Agarwal may make way - which even if harsh on him - would be the next best solution. However, this is a swim or sink situation and if Rahane messes up with this lifeline, harsher decisions may not be too far away.

"I know things on the outside are probably looked at from a different lens because you are not living those moments in the group, you are not living those moments on the field so no one really knows what conversations happen, what kind of effort is being out in to get that effort. And it’s a very sacred thing for the team. As long as that understanding stays in the change room eventually none of the other things matter and they have never mattered to us in the team because it’s not out of ignorance or neglect," Virat Kohli said in the pre-match press conference. 

But you'd be compelled to think if he also lost patience. We will have that answer sooner than later.

Question on Kiwi Spin penetration 

William Somerville, Ajaz Patel, and Rachin Ravindra showed great determination to flag off the Indian spin trio with their bat. In fact, these three played a huge role in the Black Caps eking out a draw in the first Test, landing them crucial WTC points. However, they were not really impressive as far as their primary job was concerned. They combinedly bowled 102.1 overs across two innings, and only Patel was amongst the wickets. Two of the three wickets that the Mumbai-born spinner could account for were the No.10 and No.11 batters, hence further casting doubts in his ability to assert dominance. 

Since 2010, spinners have accounted for 81.7% of total wickets fallen at the venue and naturally carried the bulk of the workload as well, by bowling 69.3 % of the total overs bowled at the venue in the given timeframe. With pacers striking at a rate of 104.8, you would be compelled to think that sides would be better placed by resting one of their pacers and adding a bit of all-round strength to the side. Kyle Jamieson has been excellent for them as was Tim Southee, and the tall pacer became the fastest bowler for New Zealand to take 50 Test wickets. While India can take solace in the fact that Kiwis don't have a lot of depth in their spin department, they will be conscious of the fact that Jamieson may alter the dynamics single-handedly. A lot of plans would go to decode him upfront.

The Rain factor

Mumbai recorded its second-highest 24-hour rainfall ever for the December month on Wednesday, the maximum temperature was plunging by 9 degrees Celsius to its second-lowest for December in a decade. According to the Times of India, an IMD scientist cyclonic circulation over the south-east Arabian Sea and the adjoining Lakshadweep which now lies over the south-east and the east-central Arabian Sea was one of the major reasons for the rain. If that was the case, a substantial amount of rainfall may be recorded during the course of the Test match.  

As Virat Kohli suggested in the pre-match press conference, the weather factor would surely decide the plans for the Friday Test, and both sides will keep a close eye on the proceedings. Last time, when India played here, Kohli scored a monumental 235, so come Friday it remains to be seen if the skipper could break the duck. 

Probable XIs

India: Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c) , Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav

New Zealand : Tom Latham, Will Young, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Tom Blundell (wk), Rachin Ravindra, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Ajaz Patel, William Somerville

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India vs New ZealandNew Zealand tour of India, 2021New ZealandIndiaAjinkya RahaneVirat KohliKyle JamiesonAjaz Patel

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