After the setback in the One Day Internationals, India will want to end the tour of New Zealand the way they started it, with victory in the Test series.
I anticipate a close contest between two evenly matched sides. New Zealand are extremely difficult to beat in their backyard, but over the last couple of years, India has travelled well to all parts of the world.
While the fast bowlers have been rightly eulogised for their part in India’s triumphs away from home, I feel the batsmen will have a big role to play as well. It’s imperative for the top order, the openers and the No 3, to spend time at the crease if India is to go big in the first innings, a recipe for success overseas.
Most of this team has played in New Zealand before and therefore has an idea of what to expect in terms of pitches, conditions and the bowling attack. It was good to see Mayank Agarwal back among the runs, even if it was in the second innings of the warm-up game. It looks like Prithvi Shaw will open alongside Agarwal because he opened in both innings in the practice match, but I hope the decision-makers have spoken to Shubman Gill and told him exactly what role they expect him to play. After all, it’s not easy to be a prospective opening batsman one day, and a potential middle-order batsman the next.
I was also pleased that Hanuma Vihari made a century in Hamilton. He has had to sit out whenever India have played five bowlers, and time spent in the middle with Cheteshwar Pujara for the company will stand him in good stead once the Tests start. Especially in a short away series, I would prefer that India went in with six batsmen, Wriddhiman Saha as the wicketkeeper and four bowlers, among them three quicks.
If the team management is convinced that Ishant Sharma is a risk-free proposition, he will automatically walk into the XI to form the pace battery with Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. Bumrah was a little off-colour during the ODIs, but he has too much quality not to make an impact in red-ball cricket, which he will be playing after nearly six months. If there is even the slightest question mark over Ishant’s paucity of match-fitness, Umesh Yadav should get his opportunity, especially after having held his own on the less responsive tracks in India.
New Zealand desperately need World Championship points, so they will go all out, but India are very good at seizing their chances. This series should be a cracker.