Seven wins out of 11 Tests, a win percentage of 63.6% and yet, New Zealand’s road to the 2019-21 World Test Championship final was heavily debated. They went on to prove them all wrong with the win over India in the final in Southampton, but the question remains: can they be the best in all conditions?
Notably, New Zealand’s road to becoming the first Test champions had a few bumpy away rides, against Australia, where they lost 3-0. Barring that three-match series against Australia, the BlackCaps also suffered a humiliating loss in their World Test Championship, against Sri Lanka.
It is a perfect opportunity and atmosphere for the Kane Williamson-led side to prove the detractors wrong, starting with the Kanpur Test, in conditions alien. With almost an impeccable record in the last two years, a return to India would be the perfect opportunity to test their growth. On the other hand, Indian skipper Ajinkya Rahane has confirmed that Shreyas Iyer would be making his debut in Kanpur but also suggested that there might be a change or two more, which makes it extremely interesting.
While both teams are almost but certainly planning on investing their horses in the spin courses, it would be enticing to see how the rest of the unit pans out.
Will New Zealand feature a spin trio?
It is almost astonishing to imagine New Zealand featuring three spinners in the XI, especially in the last two years where they have built this star pace attack, that only keeps growing stronger. The conditions in Kanpur, however, demands a change from their tried and tested methods. Ajaz Patel is set to feature for the first time in a Test in India, but the question remains: who will partner him?
In Mitchell Santner, New Zealand have a spinner who knows the conditions well but with their batting unit lacking Devon Conway, would Santner have to make way for Rachin Ravindra, who is all set to debut? With two left-arm spinners already in the playing XI, Will Somerville as the off-spinner should walk into the side to complete the troika.
“They will need a third spinner, whether they would go with Mitchell Santner, who has struggled in the Test format or will they go with the young fellow, Rachin Ravindra, he is very young. He has been in a number of U-19 sides, they might be interested to go with Ravindra, to strengthen their batting,” Craig McMillan told Cricket.com, in the build-up to the first Test.
All eyes on Mayank Agarwal
With the injury to KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma rested for the series, the onus now is on the pair of Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal at the top of the order. While Gill hasn’t quite made a mark yet in home conditions, Mayank has been a lynchpin in India’s success at home. In five matches at home in the last two years, the Karnataka opener has found real success, with 597 runs, averaging 99.5 while still tonking the ball at 61.7, with three centuries, only being dismissed after 161.2 deliveries.
With a boundary every 10.9 deliveries at home, India would need the best of Mayank, to up the ante, in the absence of Rohit. Since 2019, the Mumbai opener has scored a boundary every 10 deliveries (at home), which has helped India get through the muddy passage of play with relative ease. With the Indian skipper Virat Kohli also resting for the first Test, the bulk of scoring at a good pace is on Mayank, with almost 3% difference in boundaries between him and the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahane.
New Zealand’s batting worries in India
While all focus is on New Zealand’s bowling unit and India’s batting unit, there remains a subject that isn’t focused massively: New Zealand’s batting unit. The last time New Zealand visited India, in 2016, Luke Ronchi was still donning the BlackCaps white jersey, being the top-run scorer. The next best was Tom Latham, which is where a large chunk of our focus is going to be.
Latham’s incredible run as an opener has been well documented, with his form in India too severely appreciated. However, this time, in the absence of Conway, Latham would have to chalk up the bulk of responsibility alongside skipper Kane Williamson and veteran Ross Taylor. In the 2016 series, the left-handed opener scored 194 runs and was BlackCaps’ second-best player against spin (31.5 average).
With Kanpur set to be a rank turner, all focus would be on the trio of Latham, Williamson and Taylor. Williamson’s record against spin in India is quite worrying, with all of his dismissals last time around against spinners. In fact, he has been dismissed 11 times by spinners in India, showing a worrying trend.
On the other hand, Taylor hasn’t played a single red-ball game since the World Test Championship final. And to add to that, his vulnerability against spin (10 dismissals), makes New Zealand’s batting line-up look extremely weak going into the most crucial stage of their title defence.
Team combination and Probable XI
India’s combination issue was plenty but with injury to KL Rahul, it has certainly degreed down to just two, who fits in the middle-order and how many spinners do they pick? Ajinkya Rahane has confirmed that Shreyas Iyer is all set to make his debut. On the bowling front, it would be interesting to see the two pacers that the management would pick from, with India all set to feature the three-man spin attack. Would it be Umesh Yadav-Ishant Sharma, Umesh-Siraj or would India spring a surprise by handing a debut to Prasidh Krishna?
India’s Probable XI: Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (c), Shreyas Iyer, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.
In Devon Conway’s absence, New Zealand’s batting unit has a huge hole to fill. As explored already in the piece, it would be interesting to see if they hand debut to Rachin Ravindra, who of course, can bat at the top of the order and can bowl left-arm spin. The other question for New Zealand: which pacer gets dropped to the bench – Jamieson or Wagner?
New Zealand’s Probable XI: Tom Latham, Rachin Ravindra, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Tom Blundell (wk), Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Ajaz Patel, Will Somerville, Neil Wagner.