Wellington: Their morale dented after losing the opener, India would be desperate to end their disastrous tour on a positive note when they take on a sprightly New Zealand in the second and final Test starting here tomorrow.
The visitors lost the Auckland Test by 40 runs and had previously surrendered the five-match ODI series by an embarrassing margin of 0-4.
At Basin Reserve then, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Co would be desperate enough to put in a last gasp salvaging effort.
Victory in this Test will lift some of the gloom that has shaded this trip so far.
The ODI squad was unable to cope with the short-ball strategy deployed by the hosts’ bowling attack. That series was labelled as practice for the 2015 World Cup to be hosted here next year, and everything fell apart in spectacular fashion, sending the team think-tank and the selectors back at home to their drawing boards.
The defeat at Eden Park wasn’t as spineless as the ODI form, despite the first Test ending in four days. That match ebbed and flowed in every session as the two teams fought their hearts out.
New Zealand only misfired once with the bat, but came up trumps with their bowling in both innings. Meanwhile, India finished on the losing side because they had not performed in the first innings either with the bat or ball.
Put together, the two aforementioned points put great onus on this team, replete with superstars, to raise their level of performance in this last outing on the trip. It has a little to do with the political scenario that is shaping up in world cricket at the moment as well.
Just when the BCCI is busy flexing its muscles, making India the center-point in a restructuring of the game’s administration, its team cannot be seen surrendering meekly in conditions alien to them. Add to it, the misery this travelling bunch suffered in South Africa (in ODIs), that makes for an embarrassing situation.
The bigger picture, though, is to look at this Test match in isolation, and even then, it becomes a very important marker for Team India. This is a new squad taking shape and as such, every series becomes part of a learning curve.
If the last Test series they played is considered in
singularity, then the 0-1 loss in South Africa was a huge plus for the team.
After the departure of Sachin Tendulkar, and at the end
of the transition phase, no one expected this bunch to come out fighting the way they did, particularly after being blown away by Dale Steyn and company in the preceding ODIs. But they did make a stand, losing the series only on the tenth and last day of the contest.
While the bowling was given teeth by the red Kookaburra ball in overseas conditions, one of the key features of the India batting was how well they judged the opposition’s attack, playing only at poor deliveries while leaving as many good ones as possible. The one time they didn’t do it properly, in the second innings at Durban, the series was gone.
It seemed a continuation of that mistake in the first innings at Eden Park, and their dismissal for just 202 runs is where that Test was lost. Again in the second innings, apart from Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, that patience was still found wanting.
In Africa, the dependence on Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara stood out, and it again came across as the latter failed in Auckland, resulting in the two innings falling apart. This is something India can ill-afford.
A tougher task awaits them at Basin Reserve tomorrow. After the defeat in Auckland, Dhoni had made public his preference for a green pitch. It is very likely that pitch curator Brett Sipthorpe has granted that wish.
He had prepared a green wicket for the Test versus the West Indies earlier in December which lasted three days, with the hosts winning by an innings’ margin.
After conceding 500 runs in the first innings, the Indian attack showed a rare side to their prowess when they shot out the Kiwis for just 105 runs in their second attempt. While any bowling attack is capable of two such contrasting performances depending on a variety of factors, the regularity with which the Indian attack leans towards the former is alarming.
Moreover, despite their brilliant showing recently, there is no telling if indeed the likes of Mohammad Shami, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma will turn up in the same mood again.
India is expected to play an unchanged eleven, with Ravindra Jadeja’s top-notch fielding and counter-attacking batting ability still keeping him ahead of R Ashwin. The batsmen pick themselves, if only for the investment the team management has put in this bunch.
At this must-win juncture, they will be hoping for them to succeed collectively as a group for once and repay the faith shown.
As ahead of the first Test, New Zealand have named their playing eleven, with Ross Taylor unavailable as his second child is expected to be born during this match. 21-year-old Tom Latham will be given his Test cap and will bat at number four.
Lending further credence to the green-pitch, they have also dropped leg-spinner Ish Sodhi and brought in all-rounder James Neesham, who too will be making his Test debut.
The Black Caps will be looking to press home their advantage and round off what has been a superbly consistent and rewarding summer of cricket for them.
India: MS Dhoni (c & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar,
Umesh Yadav, Ishwar Pandey.
New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (c), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, James Neesham, Tim Southee, Tom Latham, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling (wk), Kane Williamson, Ish Sodhi (12th man).
Match starts at: 3.30am IST.