Can New Zealand pull off a miracle in Kanpur?

A victory in Kanpur will be sweeter for both teams. For India, which is playing its 500th Test, it will be a celebration of a historic occasion. For New Zealand, it will be a historic occasion — the last time it won a Test in India, Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister.

With little experience and a modest past record, New Zealand will need a few special performances to deny India winning its 500th Test.   -  PTI

A victory in Kanpur will be sweeter for both teams. For India, which is playing its 500th Test, it will be a celebration of a historic occasion. New Zealand will be hoping for the best, since the last time it won a Test in India was way back in 1988.

But New Zealand has hurdles aplenty. All-rounder Jimmy Neesham, who has a Test century against India, injured his rib and is out of the first Test. Its most experienced bowler, Tim Southee, injured his left ankle and is out of the series.

Read: >Stage set for spin!

It is facing an opponent that has won its last three series. India humiliated a top-ranked South Africa 3-0 in its latest home series. Two of those matches ended within three days.

Then, there is the pitch. It helped India’s domination of South Africa. The home tracks will favour the host again. But Virat Kohli downplayed it. “We are going to go and play some cricket, we are not worried about that [pitch], we are not going to be focusing on that. We will just go and play good cricket,” he said on the eve of the match.

Also read: >Williamson hoping to build on World T20 performance

But the cracks are already visible in Kanpur.

“Certainly it looks very dry, not a lot of grass on it. Coming over here we thought spin would be effective and we certainly think it will be in this game,” said New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson of the Kanpur track.

The groundsman Shiv Kumar, however, has vouched for the surface’s firmness, which means it shouldn’t disintegrate into a dust bowl at least for two days. But it will soon after. Then, the Indian spin attack will grow horns and tails and laugh menacingly at New Zealand.

Spinners have dominated the most for India in its hat-trick series wins. Ravichandran Ashwin, especially, is gluttonous for wickets. He scalped 21 in the West Indies tour. The tracks there, albeit offering adequate bounce, were slow. With the old ball hard to grip, it was tough bowling long spells. But Ashwin adjusted his pace according to the track and the breeze, instead of frequently varying the lines and lengths.

“As far as Test cricket goes, being boring and being repetitive is very important,” he recently said. “Staying disciplined over a long spell of bowling is very important. That is something that I have come to peace with regards to my own skill and game. I have understood Test cricket a lot better than what I used to probably from two-three years ago.”

Also read: >Team India working on handling spin, says Kohli

It shows. Of the 125 dismissals by India in the last three series, Ashwin had the lion's share of 69. Also, his recent surge in batting form — he made two hundreds in the West Indies — makes him New Zealand’s biggest bother.

Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra — both likely to be among the playing XI — will also stifle the Kiwi batsmen.

New Zealand’s most experienced in India are skipper Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor with five Tests apiece. None of its batsmen, barring Taylor, average above 40 against India in Tests.

“It is a tough place to tour, not many people's records are great but it's important we go out and play positively, bat, bowl, our presence in the field and give ourselves the best chance,” Williamson said.

Pacers form the forefront of New Zealand’s bowling. But Trent Boult and Co. might not benefit from Green Park’s short-lived first-day swing as much as its reverse swing in the later stages of the game. Spinners Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner, who bowled well in the World Twenty20, will also prefer bowling on the fifth day should the match last that long. So, batting first might be a better idea as the venue has yielded 374 runs, on average, in the first innings.

With little experience and a modest past record, New Zealand will need a few special performances to deny India winning its 500th Test.