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Virat Kohli returns as New Zealand eye elusive series win in India

Written by 
Published in Cricket
Thursday, 02 December 2021 03:37

Big picture

Mumbai returns to host Tests for the first time since 2016. But you will have to rewind as far back as 1988 for the last time these two sides met in the city. Just for context: Virat Kohli was just three weeks old then; Kane Williamson wasn't even born; Richard Hadlee was Test cricket's leading wicket-taker and West Indies the team to beat.

New Zealand's Test tours of India over the years have been rather one-sided; the closest the visitors came to a series win was in 1969. However, they've always shown signs of competing well, even if they haven't gone on to win. Having fought their way through to eke out a draw in fading light in Kanpur, a series win isn't beyond them, even if history may be against them.

Unseasonal rains have hampered much of the lead-up to this Test. While India trained at the Mumbai Cricket Association's indoor facility at the Bandra Kurla Complex, New Zealand opted for some much-needed rest for the two days they've been in the city.

Kohli returns to take over the India captaincy from Ajinkya Rahane, whose prolonged bad patch has raised question marks over his place in the side from several quarters, not as much from within the team management though.

Kohli may have not played any competitive cricket during his three weeks away, but he was spotted at the CCI nets, working with former batting coach Sanjay Bangar.

One thriller in, you can't help but think why this India-New Zealand series, a contest between the top two Test sides, is a two-match series. But in these Covid times, short tours are perhaps a blessing for the players as most of them have been on the road for the better part of the last five months. One final bout then for these two sides, whose rivalry is fast becoming an intriguing one.
Vettori: NZ could consider Wagner for Somerville

Recent form

India DWLWD (last five Tests, most recent first)
New Zealand DWWDW

In the spotlight

Wriddhiman Saha has had to make peace with being India's second wicketkeeper, behind Rishabh Pant. But at 37, he isn't getting younger. A stiff neck in Kanpur allowed his replacement KS Bharat to make a case for himself, and he did an outstanding job. Saha the batter has also struggled lately, but his fighting second-innings fifty in Kanpur may have given him some breathing space even as the case for a younger understudy to Pant grows by the day. If he gets another crack, Saha would want to show why he's still the best gloveman in the country.

Ajaz Patel will be playing in front of his parents and extended family for the first time, in an away Test at "home". How's that for a setting? The left-arm spinner batted out of his skin, along with Rachin Ravindra, to save New Zealand the Kanpur Test but it's his primary skill with which he'll want to make a statement.

Team news

Kohli's return leaves India with a selection headache. How do they leave out Shreyas Iyer after his Kanpur efforts? Do they drop Rahane? Or do they try to find a stop-gap solution by leaving out Mayank Agarwal, as harsh as it may be on him? Also, do they bring in a fitter and faster Mohammed Siraj for Ishant Sharma? Decisions, decisions. There's no way we're finding the answers until the toss.

India (probable): 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Shreyas Iyer, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Axar Patel, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Umesh Yadav

New Zealand may consider playing an extra seamer on a red-soil surface that aids bounce and carry. If so, it could potentially come down to Neil Wagner, the workhorse, replacing offspinner William Somerville.

New Zealand (probable): 1 Will Young, 2 Tom Latham, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 Tom Blundell (wk), 7 Rachin Ravindra, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Ajaz Patel

Pitch and conditions

Kohli believes it's a typical "Wankhede wicket" that will have bounce and carry thanks to a red-soil base. Rain in the build-up could mean it may not be as dry as you'd expect an Indian pitch to be.

Stats and trivia

  • Last time India failed to win at least one match in a home Test series was back in 2003 against New Zealand. Both matches in that series ended in draws.
  • Since the start of 2020, Rahane has only three fifty-plus scores in 29 Test innings. All three of those knocks came in the second Test match of the series (MCG 2020, Chennai 2021, Lord's 2021).
  • Quotes

    "We have explained it to the individuals, and they have understood the mindset behind going in with a certain combination. It is not a difficult thing to do when there is collective trust and belief in the group that we are working towards the same vision."
    Virat Kohli on India's tough selection calls

    "I have got a lot of flashbacks - leaving Mumbai for the first time and coming back to Mumbai for the first time, coming to Mumbai for a wedding and stuff like that. For me, it's going to be a very, very special moment."
    Ajaz Patel is excited to be back to the city of his birth

    Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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