Taylor and Williamson
World Test Championship

Can rejuvenated New Zealand disrupt India's WTC ascendancy?

NZ v Ind, 1st Test, preview

India have won each of their seven matches in the ICC World Test Championship. Can New Zealand, fresh from their ODI series triumph, trump Virat Kohli's men to revive their own campaign?

Overview

New Zealand v India, 1st Test
Basin Reserve, Wellington
Friday, 21 February; 11:30am local, 10:30pm (20 February) GMT

India swept New Zealand aside by five games to none in the T20I series and the hosts returned the favour in the ODIs, winning each of the three games. The focus now shifts to the longest format, where the two teams have had contrasting fortunes of late.

India had an unbeaten run in 2019, beginning with a draw in Sydney that sealed their first series win in Australia, followed by clean sweeps against West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh. New Zealand, on the other hand, were unbeaten in each Test series since December 2017, before that glorious run was disrupted by a 0-3 sweep at the hands of their trans-Tasman rivals in December-January.

The form of Ross Taylor, who is set to make his 100th Test appearance, stands out as the biggest positive for New Zealand. While skipper Kane Williamson's record at the Basin Reserve is one to marvel at: 1,048 runs at 65.50, with a highest of 242*, BJ Watling's solidity in the middle order can't be overlooked.

They'll miss the services of Neil Wagner, their top-ranked bowler in MRF Tyres ICC Test Rankings, in the series opener, but the return of Trent Boult and the promise shown by young Kyle Jamieson in the ODI series still leave the fast-bowling department well-covered.

India, though, seem to have an upper hand on that front, with Ishant Sharma having cleared the fitness test and raring to join a pace attack that also features Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Navdeep Saini, all of whom collectively bagged nine out of ten wickets in the three-day practice game against a New Zealand XI in Hamilton. That performance, and the conditions at the Basin Reserve, might well tempt the visitors to go with an all-pace attack.

Rohit Sharma's absence presents an opportunity for one of Shubman Gill or Prithvi Shaw to partner Mayank Agarwal at the top, with Shaw probably being the front-runner, having outscored Gill in Hamilton. Rishabh Pant didn't feature in the XI in the last two series, with Wriddhiman Saha being the preferred option. However, the former's superior batting exploits, especially in overseas conditions, make a strong case for his inclusion.

Remember the last time

The two teams last played in whites in a three-match series in India. The hosts won the first two games by a convincing margin and that run continued in the third game in Indore, where Kohli (211) and Ajinkya Rahane (188) forged a massive 365-run stand to propel India to a first-innings score of 557/5 declared. Martin Guptill and Tom Latham put together a 118-run opening partnership in reply, but lack of contributions thereafter, barring Jimmy Neesham's 71, saw them fold for 299.

Cheteshwar Pujara led India's charge in the second innings, scoring a hundred, as the hosts set New Zealand a target of 475. They bundled them out for 153, as India completed a 321-run win, and, with it, a 3-0 sweep. Spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja bagged 17 of the 18 New Zealand wickets that fell to bowlers, with the former being the wrecker-in-chief, returning with 6/81 and 7/59 from the two innings.

What they said

Ross Taylor, New Zealand batsman: "They are the No. 1 team in the world for a reason and we know we have to be on our game to be successful against them. I think their whole bowling line-up is fantastic. If we just look at Bumrah, we are in trouble. Obviously, [Ishant] Sharma coming back will bring new dynamics to the team. They have got a world-class batting line-up as well and we have to get through that."

Virat Kohli, India captain: "I think in New Zealand, it's all about cricket discipline and what the team brings on to the field. They are intense and very, very fit guys, and they can keep going all day and test your patience, really skilled with what they do as both bowlers and batsmen, and obviously brilliant fielders as well. So I think it takes a lot more concentration on the field rather than dealing with things off the field in New Zealand."

Conditions

Strong winds and sunny intervals are expected throughout the opening day and that might well keep the new-ball bowlers interested. Batting could be difficult on the first two days, before it progressively gets easier, as has been the trend in the last few years at the Basin Reserve.

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Standings

Group A

Pos Team P NRR Pts
1 England 3 +1.045 6
2 Bangladesh 3 +0.000 3
3 Australia 3 -0.992 2
4 New Zealand 3 -1.058 1

Group B

Pos Team P NRR Pts
1 India 3 +1.370 4
2 Pakistan 3 -0.680 4
3 South Africa 3 +0.167 2
4 Sri Lanka 3 -0.798 2

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