Be it Kane Williamson and Jimmy Neesham scoring match-saving tons on debut, or Kyle Jamieson clinching the Player of the Match award in his first outing in Test cricket, India are no strangers to the wrath of Kiwi newcomers in Test cricket.
Even five months ago, in the inaugural World Test Championship final, it was a newcomer, Devon Conway, who struck a decisive fifty in the first innings to ensure New Zealand stayed ahead in the contest.
And today in Kanpur, India will be up against another newcomer, this time someone who is young, dynamic and has been making rapid strides in the longest format over the course of the past 18 months.
Rachin Ravindra, in the absence of Conway, is making his Test debut for New Zealand in the first Test in Kanpur, and India would do well to consider the 22-year-old a potential major threat.
A three-dimensional, all-round cricketer who burst into the scene three years ago following a sensational 2018 Under-19 World Cup where he finished as the second-highest wicket-taker, it has been on the batting front that Ravindra has made massive strides over the past 18 months, particularly in red-ball cricket.
After a promising-yet-underwhelming first two years in first-class cricket, Ravindra found his groove at the start of 2020, post which he has not looked back.
The southpaw has amassed 1019 runs at an average of 44.3 since the start of last year, with 61.5% of all fifty-plus scores in his career coming during this period.
The highlight of this run was him scoring two tons in three matches, the first of which came in a tour game against a strong West Indian attack that featured Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph and Rahkeem Cornwall.
According to Glenn Pocknall, Ravindra’s coach at Wellington and someone who has overseen the youngster’s development for years, this upturn in Ravindra’s performances is a direct result of him maturing as a batter.
“I believe he has complete faith in where his game is at now and understands his plans. Couple this with an improved mental game and it has made a big difference,” Pocknall tells Cricket.com.
“He came into our side not having played a lot of red-ball cricket due to white-ball being predominantly played at the age group level. So he was very raw.
“He went through a patch like most batsmen do where he was getting out hooking and this was a great learning period for him where it showed that at times he needed to put some shots away and other times he can bring shots out.
“It was great to see how he learnt so quickly and picked up on this.”
For team India, Ravindra won’t be a complete stranger, with the 22-year-old, last week, featuring in the first T20I in Jaipur, where he scored an 8-ball 7 batting out of position.
The world did not witness the best of Ravindra on that occasion, but Pocknall believes the southpaw’s batting is tailor-made to succeed in the longest format.
“I would say he has trained his skills to be able to be strong in all formats. However, he has had the most success in red ball and has the temperament to do things for long periods of time, which naturally lines up with what is required in this format.”
New Zealand will be entering the two-match series on the back of no red-ball practice, but Ravindra, two months ago, was a part of the group that encountered extreme batting conditions in Dhaka, where wickets were as spin-friendly as the ones India dished out against England earlier this year.
The youngster, in that series, did not fare well with the bat, accumulating just 47 runs across 5 games, but Pocknall, who was the stand-in head coach for the Kiwis in Bangladesh, reckons that the mere experience of playing in those extreme conditions will bode well for Ravindra - both heading into this series against India and ultimately in the future.
“Yes, playing in those challenging conditions can only be of benefit for him. Figuring out ways to bat on a surface that offers variables and in extreme heat will have a lasting impact. It’ll be all about how quickly he could adapt his skills to be successful in those conditions,” Pocknall says.
Ravindra, today, will be donning the whites for the first time, but the youngster has been a part of the senior squad before, having been picked for the tour of England earlier this year. An injury to Kane Williamson brought about an opening in the second Test of the series, but ultimately it was Will Young who pipped Ravindra to take the skipper’s place.
Today the 22-year-old has been picked ahead of both Daryl Mitchell and Glenn Phillips owing to his all-round ability, and Pocknall believes that there is every chance Ravindra could also hurt India with the ball.
The youngster, who initially burst onto the scene through his left-arm-spin, has only been used as a part-timer in first-class cricket, but two months ago in Bangladesh he showed he could be effective in favorable conditions, taking 6 wickets at an economy of 4.36.
“His bowling is an area he’s worked hard on over the last few seasons and he has shown in Bangladesh that if the conditions are spin-friendly, he could be a handful due to his ability to spin the ball the hard, having a much more controlled action.”
All this now brings us to the million-dollar question: is Ravindra ready for Test cricket?
In his mentor’s mind, there is little doubt that the dynamic all-rounder is fully equipped to deal with the challenges that the highest level of the game tends to throw.
“He’s ready, and has shown great development over the last 12 months which has translated to on field success with the New Zealand ‘A’ Team. He has consistently shown at provincial level that he is a natural all-rounder in red-ball cricket so I’m hoping he does get a chance to test himself at the next level.”
Pocknall’s wishes have come true. It is now time for Ravindra to shine and make his mentor proud.