Wellington: India’s battle-hardened cricketers are ready for their toughest challenge of the World Test Championship till date as they face formidable hosts New Zealand on a spicy Basin Reserve track in the series-opener beginning here on Friday.
Virat Kohli’s top-ranked team, with 360 points in its kitty, is certainly the favourite on paper but the Black Caps under Kane Williamson are experts at wearing down the opposition with their patience on pitches which turn flat as the game progresses. The last time New Zealand lost a series at home was back in March 2017 and since then have won five (10 Tests) in familiar conditions.
For New Zealand, it is time to pick up pieces after their 0-3 drubbing in Australia while the current Indian team would love to reassert that they are the best when it comes to winning in adverse conditions as they did in Australia last year.
The open Basin Reserve ground has always been challenging for both batsmen and bowlers due to crosswinds. And the new opening pair of Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal will have its task cut out against a top-class seam attack comprising Trent Boult, Tim Southee, and Kyle Jamieson, who in all likelihood will make his debut.
However, the absence of left-arm speedster Neil Wagner, who could have created awkward angles with his short balls, will provide some respite for the Indian middle-order. Wagner is on a break to welcome his first child.
New Zealand named their 12 on the day and it will be a choice between seamer all-rounder Daryl Mitchell or slow left-arm orthodox Ajaz Patel. While New Zealand are expected to go with four frontline pacers and maybe the fifth seamer in all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme, the Indian team management might be tempted to try out Ravichandran Ashwin, who purely as a spinner, has more variety compared to left-arm orthodox of Ravindra Jadeja. For India, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane will have to be the foil around Shaw, Agarwal and Vihari with their techniques being tested.