Stage set for spin!

India has 13 Tests lined up this season and this series would be the beginning of the journey. Much, obviously, would depend on how the spinners deliver. The Kanpur Test will be India’s 500th since its inaugural one in 1932. The historic occasion should inspire Kohli and the team to make the season a memorable one.

Skipper Virat Kohli and coach Anil Kumble have the right ideas.   -  K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

The New Zealand think-tank of coach Mike Hesson, skipper Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. The Kiwis' main concern would be how to tackle Indian spin.   -  AFP

This is the best Test cricket season in a long time. Three back-to-back series involving New Zealand, England and Australia should gladden the traditionalists. For them it should be a welcome departure from T20 cricket.

The focus, obviously, would be on the pitches. As to whether they would be turners or 50-50 surfaces.

International cricket has not seen many teams winning a series overseas. It is all about playing your best cricket at home and India is no exception. The thumping wins against Australia and South Africa when they visited last only drove home the point that home pitches are the key since they are prepared to make things difficult for the visiting side.

>India vs. New Zealand Statistics — I

>India vs. New Zealand Statistics — II

New Zealand is not the best of travelling teams. It is formidable at home but quite vulnerable overseas. India is no different when it travels to Australia or England. For that matter India is yet to win a Test series in Australia and South Africa. So, when it gets a chance to host a series, India goes flat out with spinner-friendly pitches. It is not going to be any different this time.

“We are expecting the wickets to turn,” Ross Taylor read the situation correctly on the eve of the tour match against Mumbai in Delhi. “We are not expecting the Test wickets to look the way it is looking at the Kotla. Regardless of whether you are playing on a bouncy green wicket or on a turning wicket, you have got to put yourself under pressure in training and try to simulate as much as possible,” Taylor said.

One does not have to hear this from Taylor. The curators have been instructed to roll out pitches that would make bowlers like R. Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja most lethal.

New Zealand has come with three spinners — off-spinner Mark Craig, left-armer Mitchell Santner and leg-spinner Ish Sodhi. As former India Test opener Gautam Gambhir remarked, the home team cannot afford to be complacent against New Zealand since it also had a decent spin attack.

 

Former India captain Sourav Ganguly felt the home team had a distinct advantage. “New Zealand are aware of the fact that it would be hard to beat India in India. But if you compare them with England and Australia, New Zealand would be the second best side after England. The conditions will favour India,” he said in Kolkata.

But Taylor, the experienced Kiwi, expected his seamers, Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner, to deliver. “Even on a spinning track, they are world class bowlers, given the right conditions. The ball does swing a little bit here early on and if there is going to be different conditions we might open with a spinner. With the abrasive surface, we are expecting reverse swing to be effective. And Trent, Tim and Neil are very good exponents of the reverse swing.” Subsequently, Southee had to pull out of the tour because of an ankle injury and Matt Henry was named as his replacement.

Obviously, New Zealand has come better prepared this time. There is little doubt about India’s supremacy at home with its fabulous batting line-up a huge threat to New Zealand’s hopes of springing a surprise. Coach Mike Hesson gave an indication of the flexibility in the New Zealand ranks. Speaking of Luke Ronchi as a back-up option for the opener’s position, he noted, “It’s not your traditional New Zealand opener that you require over there; you need guys who can score against spin, find ways to rotate the strike and keep the game moving,” Hesson was quoted by stuff.co.nz.

Skipper Kane Williamson and Taylor would have to take the responsibility of scoring. And Williamson assessed it well on landing in India. “India is a tough place to play, particularly, in more recent years where the pitches have been very tricky. I guess (when) you throw in world-class spinners, the challenges are very tough but at the same time we see it as a very exciting opportunity. (The) previous series here, certainly spin played a huge part, and at times batting was difficult.”

Williamson and Taylor would look to show that their side is better than Australia and South Africa, who proved to be extremely poor players of spin. Williamson ranks among the top batsmen in contemporary cricket and Taylor would love to complement his captain with some big scores. The key to the series lies in which team plays spin better. India, however, would do well to guard against any complacency since New Zealand can prove to be a tricky side. The visiting team has the balance to surprise India.

For the home team the strength comes from the combination that Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble strike with their awesome cricket abilities. Kumble as the coach and Kohli as the captain can be the ideal think-tank for a team which has proved to be average when travelling. True, the recent tour to the West Indies saw India dominate but then the result needs to be seen in the right perspective. The wins came against an opposition that was fielding its weakest team in years.

India is a team being built around a captain who believes he must win every match. That is how Kohli has played his cricket and a captain like him makes all the difference on the field. His tremendous batting potential is the launching pad for this team which can boast of one of the strongest batting line-ups with the presence of M. Vijay. K. L. Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma.

Spin may be the potent force for India but there is also the pace of Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to snare the Kiwis. Kohli’s decision to play five bowlers speaks of his positive attitude and this also appeals to his fans. They like this characteristic of the Indian team where players back each other and take pride in performing collectively.

This series is also important for Rohit’s future as a Test batsman. He can draw motivation from selection committee chairman Sandeep Patil, who said, “Rohit is a fabulous player, immense talent he has got, but he hasn’t got a long run in Test cricket. He has been picked for one Test and then rested an entire season and again picked. So the selection committee, along with coach and captain, have decided that whoever is picked will be given a fair amount of chances.” This is the stage for Rohit to be given a fair chance. He has it in him to serve the Test team for a long period.

India has 13 Tests lined up this season and this series would be the beginning of the journey. Much, obviously, would depend on how the spinners deliver. The Kanpur Test will be India’s 500th since its inaugural one in 1932. The historic occasion should inspire Kohli and the team to make the season a memorable one.