New Zealand will make life hard for India in the Wellington Test
India came to New Zealand as a gunslinger out to annihilate the opposition. The Men in Blue had come to prove that they are better than Australia even after return of Steve Smith and David Warner.
On the other hand New Zealand was battling for pride after being humiliated by Australia.
India wins a whopping 70% of matches when its top three- Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan contribute.
The gods seem to be with New Zealand as both Dhawan and Sharma are out.
Both teams evened out the series - India blanking NZ in the T20Is and the hosts pulverizing the visitors in the ODIs. The bragging rights, therefore, will go to the victor of the Test series.
India has a dismal record at Wellington. India won a test in New Zealand's capital in 1968. Since then, the nation has lost four tests there despite boasting some great names.
2014 saw a change as Kohli scored 143 but Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling scored 300+ runs for sixth wicket and averted defeat.
Neil Wagner and Martin Guptill not being in the team is hard to digest. New opening pair is in the offering but they should definitely be better than Tom Latham and Jeet Rawal, who were clueless against Australia. Will New Zealand pick Colin de Grandhomme or Kyle Jamieson is a question. I feel that Jeetan Patel will not be kept in the team and both of them will play and it will be all pace attack.
Prithvi Shaw has scored heavily in India. He has also proved that he can give a brisk start in ODIs. Mayank Agarwal has been in the gutters in New Zealand but his past performances and temperament ensures his selection.
Now Shubman Gill can oust Shaw on the basis of his centuries for India A. I will prefer Shaw to Gill so as to give a positive start.
Indian middle order is constant with Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane taking the next positions.
Wellington doesn't offer a spinning track so I would go to include all four pacers. Ishant Sharma took seven wickets in the 2014 tour of New Zealand. Umesh Yadav's swing will be troublesome.
So, Ravichandran Ashwin to be dropped to and Ravindra Jadeja to be the lone spinner to strengthen batting. Rishabh Pant should get a nod over Wriddhiman Saha on the basis of his batting in Tests. I have always written that Pant is a wonderful test batsman and he has the temperament and technique for the longer form of the game.
Batting first or fielding first
Kohli has won the toss 25 times and opted to bat 24 times. So, India wins when batting first as they put up a good total and the spinners wrap the opposition up in the fourth innings.
Now the negative aspect. Kohli has not won a single overseas Test, batting second. Every time Indian batsmen failed to deliver in the fourth innings.
India's last win overseas, while batting second was in 2010. The opposition was Sri Lanka.
Somehow, New Zealand's record is not so eschewed and they are comfortable either batting first or chasing.
In New Zealand teams batting first rarely win. The first innings average score is only 276, as good grass cover is there. Average of second innings is 400 so, teams prefer to bat second and put pressure.
The matches, therefore, are decided on the fourth day and fifth day. Workload on pace bowlers is huge as spinners are not effective and they are expected to bowl 20 overs in each innings and a total of 40+ overs in a match. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma are coming back from injuries, so this looks unlikely.
It is not crucial. If New Zealand wins, they will send India to bat. If India wins they would like to bat and score runs as they have done all year round and have 360 points in ICC Test Championship.
New Zealand wants to avenge their loss to Australia and here they will be taking on an inexperienced Indian batting line-up. The Blackcaps must be savoring the prospect.
Unless a maverick batting performance saves India, New Zealand are primed to win the Wellington Test.
In windy conditions of New Zealand, Pujara, Rahane, Shaw and Agarwal will all nick to slips and keeper and make it tougher for Indian bowlers to defend the score. Daddy hundreds by Kohli or Pujara may help India in playing for a draw, but a loss looks more likely.
Do not forget to view the Women's World T20. The young Indian team has many stars but a brittle middle order. They remind me of 1983, so expect some miracles.