Following the hugely disappointing ODI series India is set to embark on a two test series against the hosts. While not many, including fans and experts, will be hoping for good things to come after what happened in the one-dayers there would also be hope in some quarters that perhaps Indian players might have it in them to turn the tide and finally register a win in the tests to follow. Following are certain important factors that will come into play during the first test:
Recent form: While India may not have won tests abroad, it has lost lesser matches than before. In South Africa, for example, it was in dominant positions in both the tests before ceding the initiative in the second test and ultimately losing the series. So in some way, it has become a better tourist than before. One also needs to consider in this regard the absolute lack of experience in the test team. New Zealand, on the other hand, will be buoyed by its series win against the Windies and will be looking to use that momentum as well as all the impetus it gained from the one-dayers preceding the tests.
Conditions: The first test will be played on a drop-in pitch, which will ensure a hard surface and plenty of bounce and carry throughout the game. While it is true that the Kiwi seamers will perhaps enjoy the conditions more than the Indians, the spinners on either sides will like the bounce on offer.
Strategy: Both Brendon McCullum and Mike Hesson, the captain and the coach of the hosts have stated that they will look to be very aggressive as they believe such a stance will give them the upper hand in a series against higher ranked opposition. Former fast bowler and present bowling coach of New Zealand, Shane Bond, who has tormented India in past, has been the one credited with coming up the said strategy. Trent Boult has also said that there will be a liberal dosage of bouncers. For India, it might look to defend its castle first before going on the offensive. This means both batsmen and bowlers may have to forsake their natural ebullience in favor of a more disciplined and restrained approach.
Team combination: Right now, the hosts look like the more settled lot courtesy their excellent form. It is expected that Fulton and Rutherford shall open the innings with probably Williamson and Taylor occupying the next two spots. Next up, it will be the skipper himself and Corey Anderson. Watling, the keeper batsman shall bat at no. 7. The Kiwi seam attack will feature Southee and Boult along with Wagner at first change. If Ish Sodhi, the young leg spinner cum allrounder is preferred over Bracewell then he will bat at the 8th position.
For the Indians though the things will not be so simple.
The batting unit is more or less settled for India. Dhawan and Vijay will be opening the innings with Pujara at number 3. Much will depend on the young Saurashtra batsman as he will be manning the crucial position in the batting order and will need to act as the fulcrum of the same. One hopes that his inclusion rubs off positively on the team. Kohli and Rohit Sharma will bat at 4 and 5 respectively. It is at this juncture though that things will get interesting for Dhoni and Co. Will they play Ajinkya Rahane or go for Jadeja as the allrounder? Having Jadeja will obviously provide more options for Dhoni in terms of bowling but it will also have him take on a greater responsibility as a batsman in addition to his keeping duties. So, that will be an interesting choice indeed!
Ashwin will likely be chosen as the sole spinner or main spinner in case Jadeja plays. Zaheer and Shami will be no-brainers when it comes to determining the new ball pair. Dhoni could also do worse than have a look in at Ishwar Pandey considering the form he has shown in the warm up encounter. Umesh Yadav could also be considered for his extra pace but, then, he clearly lacks the control to be an effective bowler. If Dhoni decides to go with 4 seamers then Bhuvneshwar Kumar may get the nod over Ishant because of his proven batting capabilities.
India, at the moment, has more questions than answers but then the hallmark of a good side is how it can find answers to these queries that supposedly do not have one. It is really time that Dhoni and India proved their mettle where it matters most – outside India!