Bengaluru: After a lapse of 17 years, New Zealand face India at the Mangalam Chinnaswamy Stadium here looking to score their only third cricket Test win on Indian soil, but following their capitulation to spin at Hyderabad and their track record here, another Indian victory looks a distinct possibility, weather permitting.
With India already 1-0 up in the two-Test series, the Black Caps can at best hope to square the rubber by winning the game starting Friday, but again, given the spell cast by the home spinners, notably offie Ravichandran Ashwin, fresh from his 12-wicket haul at Hyderabad, the Kiwis have their task cut out.
The rival captains Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ross Taylor will be casting a sharp eye both at the pitch and the heavens as the city is under a wet spell with heavy rains in the afternoon and evening.
Curator Narayan Raju has promised a “sporting pitch” that will assist both seam and spin while an even bounce would encourage stroke play. So much in theory, but the last time the two teams met at this ground in 1995, the game lasted less than three days with India winning by eight wickets after leggie Anil Kumble claimed nine, including his 100th in Tests.
The long-held belief that the Kiwi batsmen are uncomfortable playing quality spin was underlined in the game at Hyderabad earlier this week when India won by an innings, and though Taylor has promised a fight back, it remains to be seen whether such brave words would be backed by deed.
Back in 1988, the John Wright-led Kiwis had Sir Richard Hadlee to look up to and the legendary seamer provided the only solace for his team by picking up his 33rd five-wicket haul that included his 374th Test victim, a record at that time.
Yet, the visitors succumbed to the spin of Arshad Ayub and Narendra Hirwani, both claiming eight wickets apiece, as Azharuddin chalked up his 11th Test win with half the Kiwi side down with mystery virus that led to two Kiwi TV commentators substituting as fielders. Hadlee took 10 wickets in Mumbai in the following Test that Kiwis won, their last Test triumph in India.
Thus, with history against them, New Zealand will have to look deep within to find a spark of inspiration to even match the Indians, much less beat them as Dhoni would have the foot on the throttle to sweep the series 2-0.
The scenario in the Indian camp is in sharp contrast. The win at Hyderabad coincided with India’s Under-19 World Cup triumph in Australia while Cheteshwar Pujara, occupying the key No 3 slot in the batting line-up and whose inclusion was once questioned, marking his presence with a century.
For all that, the focus would again be on Ashwin and his comrade in arms, left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who are expected shoulder much of the bowling load like they did in Hyderabad. Both are fast maturing into quality spinners and they seem to perform better when bowling in tandem.
With the batting more or less settled, it is unlikely that Dhoni would tinker with the line-up and given his reluctance to disturb a winning combination, he would be inclined to go in with an unchanged playing eleven.
As for the Kiwis, there is not much that could be said of their batting or, for that matter, bowling, and the ease with which India rolled them over in the previous Test, only strengthened the pre-series belief that it would be Dhoni’s men all the way.
The Black Caps will require a divine intervention, which they might still get given the local weather, to avoid further humiliation.