The series is already decided. The Indian team has already regained the numero uno ranking that had been conceded to the neighbouring nation not so long ago. Still, India is in no mood to take the last Test against New Zealand, starting at the Holkar Stadium in the heart of the buzzing central Indian city which will also mark the cricket administrator’s initiative of taking Test cricket to newer territories, lightly.
As Virat Kohli and Co. had their last pre-match workout of the series on Friday, one could sense that there wasn’t an inch of drop in intensity in the team’s training methods. With the addition of Shikhar Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to the growing list of injuries, their replacements – Karun Nair and Shardul Thakur, respectively – made their presence felt in the net session, trying to make a case for earning a debut cap.
Nair, for sure, will have to wait longer, unless another Indian mainstay suffers an injury just before the match. Captain Virat Kohli confirmed that Gautam Gambhir, a week short of 35, will mark a return to the side after more than two years in Dhawan’s place since he is “a natural replacement”.
Thakur’s chances of a debut in Indore also appear slim unless of course the management decides to rest either Mohammed Shami or Umesh Yadav, assuming that India decides to stick to its 'two pacers and two spinners' formula.
That will depend upon the nature of the 22-yard strip. The Holkar Stadium has a reputation of offering a hard pitch with decent bounce and grass cover. However, it may not be the case, come Friday. While Kohli described it as a “hard” surface, his Kiwi counterpart Kane Williamson felt the surface was “soft” after a prolonged spell of showers.
Irrespective of the surface, India has shown it has the firepower to outlast its spirited opponents. The margin of victory may be sizeable, but India realises that New Zealand has been competitive for most parts of the two Tests so far. And with Williamson having all but recovered from the viral fever that forced him to withdraw from Eden Gardens Test last week, the Kiwis will be keen to end the series on a high.
Williamson and Co. realise that they need their big guns to fire with the willow. Ross Taylor, Martin Guptill and B.J. Watling have a combined tally of 180 runs from 12 innings. It is their inability to adapt to the conditions and succeed against a quality bowling attack that has resulted in the Kiwis falling short of scoring a sizeable first innings total in Kanpur and Kolkata.
India, on the other hand, has little to worry going into the match. R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have not only complemented each other like they often do in home conditions but have also received the crucial support from the pace department. And the long batting line-up has been solid, with each of the specialist batsmen having come good when it mattered. The only thing missing is a three-digit score for any of them. They would be hoping to take care of it during the next five days.
The teams (from)
India: Virat Kohli (capt), M. Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, R. Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Karun Nair, Amit Mishra, Jayant Yadav, Shardul Thakur.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Tom Latham, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, BJ Watling (wk), Matt Henry, Jeetan Patel, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Henry Nicholls, Ish Sodhi, Doug Bracewell, James Neesham.
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena and Bruce Oxenford; Third umpire: C. Shamshuddin; Match referee: David Boon
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