India host New Zealand for 3 Tests. But this series shouldn’t be a big challenge for the No. 2 Ranked Test team. They are overwhelming favourites and rightly so. If India’s form at home last year against South Africa is anything to go by, barring weather interruptions, India should win all 3 matches. The pitches and their preparation will play a huge role. Barring the influence of rain, it seems improbable that any of the pitches for the Tests at Kanpur, Kolkata and Indore will not assist the spinners.
India preparing pitches that help their spinners is part of the larger phenomenon in international Cricket where teams have been preparing pitches to suit them. We saw England prepare dry pitches during the Ashes to blunt the formidable pace attack of Australia. If the Test matches against New Zealand are done and dusted in 3 days or less, the debate over whether the pitches were substandard or not up to Test match level quality will surely be rekindled, but it is mostly unfounded.
The spin trio of Ashwin, Mishra and Jadeja should prove to be a handful against a New Zealand batting line up that doesn’t boast any top players of spin except Kane Williamson. The much vaunted South African line up collapsed regularly last year against the same spin trio, and it’s difficult to fathom that the result will be anything different if the pitches in this Test series are of a similar nature.
New Zealand did record a famous victory against India at Nagpur during the World T20 earlier this year, but a lot of factors contributed towards that win. India did not read the pitch correctly and were defensive in their mindset with the ball. The batsmen got out to soft dismissals and the required run rate climbed up swiftly. This won’t be the case in Test matches, where Virat Kohli has always looked to be aggressive with his bowling decisions, as seen in his preference for picking 5 frontline bowlers. Also, with no required run rate pressure, the Indian batsman can afford to play the New Zealand spinners out and wear them down. With two innings, it won’t be easy for New Zealand to press home the advantage, given India’s spin trio.
Coming to the teams’ current form, India were clinical in West Indies. If not for the weather, they could very well have whitewashed the series 4–0. The combination of Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli has started off well. Given Anil Kumble’s experience of leading India to victory in Tests at home, he will surely impart that knowledge to the spin trio and develop plans accordingly for each of the New Zealand batsmen.
New Zealand have had a great run in Tests in the recent past, but have faltered over the last year and lost convincingly against Australia both home and away, as well as in South Africa. Given that their inspirational captain Brendon McCullum has retired, Kane Williamson has a lot on his plate.
New Zealand’s record in India also doesn’t inspire much confidence. They haven’t won a Test match in India for 26 years. They have just won 2 test matches out of the 31 matches they have played in India over a period of 51 years. It goes without saying that they have never won a series in India. They lost their last two Test series in India in 2010 and 2012. They lost both matches in 2012. Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha were unstoppable in the 2012 series and ran through their batting line up with ease. Ashwin has further matured as a bowler, having added more tricks to his armory, and is much more disciplined now.
With a batting line up which does not have a great track record against spin and an inexperienced spin bowling attack, it’ll be an uphill battle for them to win a Test. A series win for New Zealand would be one of the greatest upsets in Test cricket history.
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