India are formidable at home and all visiting teams know how difficult it is to win a Test let alone a series in this country. India hasn’t lost a series at home since England won in 2012 and among all visiting sides who have been visiting India since the 50s New Zealand knows the situation best. (colorreflections.com) They have not won a Test series after 11 trips to India and in fact have won only two matches out of 34 spread over 66 years. The victories have been notched up in 1969 and 1988 and in fact they came very close to winning that series half a century ago. They lost the first Test, won the second and called the shots in the third to the extent of being on the verge of a history making series win but were thwarted by rain which rescued India from a hopeless position.
The peerless Richard Hadlee shaped the other victory 33 years ago but since then New Zealand have had no chance of registering a third win, such has been India’s dominance. There is no reason to believe that it will be any different this time around even if the home team is without some key players. Skipper Virat Kohli will miss the first Test – he will be back for the second – but Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami will miss both matches. In addition, KL Rahul has been ruled out due to a left thigh muscle.
India’s reserve strength however is formidable. It should not be forgotten that it was this reserve bench that was chiefly responsible for the memorable triumph in Australia last season and there is little doubt that should they be given a chance, players like Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal and Mohammed Siraj will come good.
As if taking on India in their own backyard is anything but an enviable option New Zealand’s task is made even more difficult by the absence of pace spearhead Trent Boult and allrounder Colin Grandhomme. However, with players of the calibre of Kane Williamson, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Henry Nichols, Ross Taylor, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner around they are unlikely to be a pushover unless both the Tests at Kanpur and Mumbai are played on turning tracks. That is likely to be the norm in which case Williamson and company will find their task something like Mission Impossible.
That is why there is already talk of New Zealand countering this by fielding three spin bowlers even at the risk of affecting the overall balance of the playing eleven. Unfortunately, their spin trio of Mitchell Santner, Ajaz Patel and Will Sommerville lack the class, skill and experience of the Indian spin line-up of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel and the tactic could well backfire. However, the visitors have few other options open to them. New Zealand’s hopes centre around their leading pace bowlers Southee, Wagner and Jamieson being among the wickets and their leading batsmen Taylor, Williamson, Latham and Nichols coming up with a couple of master classes. Overall, however even an under strength Indian team may carry too many guns for the Kiwis.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)