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INDIA VS NEW ZEALAND: QUESTIONS FOR HOME TEAM

Who opens with Rahul? Who bats in Kohli’s vacant spot? Which two fast bowlers to pick? Is this is the end for Ishant?

india vs new zealand kanpur test 2021

Three days after beating New Zealand 3-0 in a T20I series, the Indian cricket team heads into the first of two Tests against the same opponents in Kanpur. With regular captain Virat Kohli rested for the first Test and Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Rishabh Pant for both fixtures, there are opportunities for the team management, under new coach Rahul Dravid, to test out players in familiar and unfamiliar roles with an eye on the 2021-23 World Test Championship cycle and the tour of South Africa next month.

Here is a look at the major talking points ahead of the Kanpur Test.

AGARWAL TO OPEN, GILL AT FOUR?

There is a school of thought that believes that Shubman Gill’s proper spot in India’s Test lineup is in the middle order. Each of the 22-year-old’s 15 Test innings have come when he’s opened, starting with a stirring campaign in Australia last winter. But then the runs started to dry up, as a perceived weakness against the incoming delivery was opened up, and Gill was ruled out of the Tests in England on account of an injury.

ALSO READ: SHUBMAN GILL HAS THE MAKINGS OF A STAR

With Kohli rested for the first Test and Mayank Agarwal fit to open, there is logic to seeing how Gill fares at the vacant No 4 spot, albeit it for one match. Agarwal averages 47.85 after 21 innings as opener (that swells to 99.50 at home) and looked set to get a look-in during the England tour before he was concussed at a nets session. That paved the way for his best mate KL Rahul to open alongside Rohit, and the result was 315 runs from eight innings, including a very fine 129 in the first innings at Lord’s.

Mayank Agarwal Test
Mayank Agarwal has not played a Test since Brisbane in January. (Credit: BCCI)

Gill is 22, Agarwal nearing 31. You get the sense that Gill will get a longer rope than Agarwal, and not just because of the age factor. Agarwal made a belated Test debut during the 2018-19 tour of Australia and grabbed it with both hands. Injury has reduced his chances thereon. That is sport. If gets the nod alongside Rahul in Kanpur, expect him to cash in.

WHAT THEN, OF IYER?

India’s problem of plenty with openers leaves one talented batsman looking at more bench time: Shreyas Iyer. For some years now, Iyer has been looked at as a viable middle-order option in Tests but with Kohli at No 4 and Ajinkya Rahane holding onto his spot despite some very inconsistent scores, the Mumbai batsman has not got a chance.

Shreyas Iyer T20I stats
Shreyas Iyer has been a fixture in India’s white-ball squads for several years. (Credit: Getty)

Hanuma Vihari’s absence from India’s squad and the likelihood of three spinners against New Zealand leaves the vacant No 4 spot for the Kanpur Test as a big talking point, but because Indian cricket has for long accommodated Test openers in the middle order, the chances of Iyer making his debut are slim.

Which is a shame, for he is a fine batsman whose game looks a fit in Test cricket.

TRIPLE THREAT FROM INDIA’S SPINNERS

When India roared back from defeat to England in Chennai during the home season, it was largely based on the success of their spinners, R Ashwin and Axar Patel, in his debut Test series. In four Tests, Ashwin claimed 32 wickets and left-armer Axar grabbed 27 from three in one of the strongest debut performances by an Indian bowler ever.

Granted, the conditions were tailor-made for spinners, but the job had to be done and Ashwin and Axar out-bowled England’s slow men considerably. Now, for the Kanpur and Mumbai Test matches, add in Ravindra Jadeja and you have a recipe for 2-0.

Axar Patel Ahmedabad Test
Axar Patel starred for India with 27 wickets in his first Test series. (Credit: BCCI)

Ashwin did not get a single game in England this past summer, so you expect him to make a statement once again. Axar, after three wickets in the final T20I versus New Zealand, will play. Jadeja has got a bit of breather during these three matches after the entire England tour, where he played all five Tests including the WTC final, and then the full IPL for winners Chennai Super Kings followed by five T20 World Cup matches. These three spinners, in favourable conditions, are going to make life very tough for New Zealand.

WHICH TWO QUICKS TO PICK?

Three spinners mean that there is room for just two pace bowlers. No Bumrah and Shami leaves Ishant Sharma as the most experienced quick, followed by Umesh Yadav, so good at home,  Mohammed Siraj, who has has impressed in each of his nine Test matches, and the uncapped Prasidh Krishna.

Siraj, after a heavy workload much like Jadeja, has gotten some rest after the IPL. He wasn’t part of India’s T20 World Cup squad and played just one T20I versus New Zealand last week, so he should slot right into the XI for the Kanpur Test. Umesh deserves to get a chance considering how well he has bowled in home Tests, and how he stood up in England.

Umesh Yadav comeback
Umesh Yadav starred with six wickets on his comeback in England. (Credit: BCCI)

While Ishant could do with live-match conditions ahead of the South Africa tour, considering that he is likely to be deemed surplus there once Bumrah, Shami and Shardul Thakur return, it is tough to see him get in ahead of Siraj and Umesh.

Krishna, the Karnataka seamer, is the slowest of the four pacers. This is as good a chance as any to see what he can do. Chances are that Siraj gets the nod for Kanpur, alongside Umesh, and then we could see Krishna make his debut in Mumbai.

LIKELY XI FOR KANPUR

1 Mayank Agarwal, 2 KL Rahul, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Shubman Gill, 5 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 6 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Axar Patel, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Mohammed Siraj

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