After a disappointing One Day series, India now head into the Two Test series with the pressure of being underdogs as the Number 2 ranked Test side against the host who are ranked Number 8.
The inability of India’s bowlers to penetrate the Kiwi batting line up was a major cause of the 4-0 loss in the One Day series, and has the potential to plague the team in their overseas challenges if not rectified soon. The return of Zaheer Khan to the Indian Test squad in New Zealand goes a long way in boosting the bowling stocks in seamer friendly conditions.
India’s batting line up will also be boosted by the return of Cheteshwar Pujara. The man who seamlessly stepped into the big boots left by Rahul Dravid in the Test team, was controversially overlooked for the ODI leg of this tour, despite brilliant form in the Test arena over the past 18 months. At number three, Pujara addresses any concerns there might be over the form of the opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay, by providing a solid anchor. In South Africa, he proved he has the technique to prosper in overseas conditions, against world class bowling as well.
MS Dhoni’s batting concerns will also be relieved by the manner in which Ajinkye Rahane batted in South Africa, for a career best 96 in his debut series, and also the evergreen Virat Kohli. The batting line up, which has been found out in South Africa and New Zealand in the One Day format after an unbelievable run in 2013, showed their ability to adapt to Tests in South Africa – by leaving the ball, and playing the loose deliveries offered to them. Similar application in New Zealand is required to conquer the home side, who are hungry to continue their run of upsets against the big dogs in the last few seasons.
New Zealand have shown they are no longer the pushovers they once were. In the last few years, apart from the 4-0 drubbing they handed out to India in the recently concluded ODI series, have pushed a champion England team to the brink last season, as well as beating Australia in a Test away from home, as well as South Africa away from home in ODIs.
The key battle will be between the Indian bowling attack, against the BlackCaps batting. With Ross Taylor displaying an unbelievable purple patch this season, and Captain McCullum giving up the gloves to concentrate on leading the side with the bat, New Zealand seem to have found their ideal line up. India will need to persist with a young brigade of bowlers, still learning their trade away from home with a senior stalwart returning to lead them in the right direction. The spinners in conditions away from home will continue to be a concern, and on current Test form it would be wise to go in with Jadeja ahead of Ashwin with his stellar performance in the last Test in Durban.
India has everything to prove in this short series and try and shake off their flattrack bully tag, and New Zealand has everything to gain by slaying another giant. Hopefully the weather won’t play spoilsport in what could be a memorable series for both sides.