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Missing many first-choice players, India take on tough New Zealand

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Kanpur, November 24

A captain battling existential crisis, a veteran pacer about to be phased out and a white-ball maverick trying to earn his red-ball stripes — these factors make for a heady combination as Ajinkya Rahane’s second-string India take on New Zealand in first Test from tomorrow.

Not concerned about my form. My job is to contribute as much as possible for my team. Contribution doesn’t mean that you need to score 100 in each game. Scores of 30, 40, 50 per innings are also important contributions Ajinkya Rahane, India’s test captain

Rahane, with his career on the line, gets to lead India for perhaps the one last time while 100-Test veteran Ishant Sharma would be hoping to keep his place in the XI in the face of competition from young pacers like Mohammed Siraj.

New Zealand players during a practice session. – File photo

Shreyas Iyer is set for his Test debut and would like to reaffirm the ‘Bombay (not Mumbai) School of Batsmanship’, whose gutsy philosophy transcends the white-ball riches of T20 hits. “Shreyas Iyer will be making his debut but I can’t reveal anything about combination,” Rahane confirmed today.

The Indian team is without its hit opening pair of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, and also missing from the line-up is skipper Virat Kohli and match-winning wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant. This gives new head coach Rahul Dravid a chance to test the bench strength before the away tour of South Africa, which starts in less than a month’s time.

Among the frontline batsmen for the first Test, only Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal have played more than 10 Tests. If Agarwal does well, it will keep Rahul on his toes and a good show by Shubman Gill will keep the team management interested in slotting him in the middle-order when the two regular openers come back.

Ishant under pressure

For Ishant — the senior-most player in the current set-up, having made his debut in 2007 — the situation is getting bleaker by the day. He didn’t look in good rhythm during the net session and if Siraj is dropped from the XI, Ishant will need to prove that the team management’s decision isn’t a travesty. Umesh Yadav, however, remains the first-choice new-ball bowler.

Iyer last played a First-Class match in February 2019, and he will have his task cut out on Test debut. Today Dravid made him negotiate short-ball throwdowns from left-arm specialist Nuwan in order to simulate Wagner’s round the wicket tactic. A solid debut with an aggressive mindset would give Iyer a chance to cement his place in the middle-order.

Off-spinner Jayant Yadav had an extended session under the watchful eyes of Dravid.

Ashwin back

Ravichandran Ashwin, given a royal snub by Kohli during the last series against England, would be itching to reaffirm his status as the world’s No. 1 spinner. His battle with Kane Williamson wosuld be a treat for lovers of Test cricket but seasoned players like Ross Taylor, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls would have to be at their vigilant best against Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The third spinner is likely to be Axar Patel

For the Black Caps, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner will be the two pacers, with the left-arm spin duo of Ajaz Patel and Mitchell Santner and off-spinner William Somerville likely to complete the attack. — PTI

Leader under siege

In any sport, the leader of the side is considered to have a secured slot in the team but in this Indian team, the skipper will be batting to save his career after an average of 19 in 11 Test matches this year. Two more failures in two home Tests could effectively mean the end of the road for Ajinkya Rahane. In such a scenario, even Dravid will find it difficult to justify the Mumbaikar’s inclusion in the Johannesburg-bound flight next month. A look at Rahane’s net session today did not inspire much confidence. He tried an ugly hoick off Jayant Yadav’s off-break and was clean bowled, and quick bowler Prasidh Krishna induced an outside edge.

Squads

India: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Jayant Yadav, S Bharat, Prasidh Krishna

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Latham (wk), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Tom Blundell (wk), Will Young, Glenn Phillips (wk), Daryl Mitchell, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Kyle Jamieson, William Somerville, Ajaz Patel, Mitchell Santner, Rachin Ravindra

5 wickets is all Ashwin needs to go past Harbhajan Singh’s 417 to become India’s most prolific off-spinner in Test cricket.

4 wickets Umesh Yadav is four wickets short of becoming the fifth Indian fast bowler after Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma to pick up 100 wickets in home Tests.

4 wins New Zealand have won just two of their 34 Tests in India so far: in Nagpur in 1969-70 and in Mumbai in 1988-89.

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