Shreyas Iyer’s scintillating batting on debut in the first Test against New Zealand in Kanpur has landed the Indian team management in a catch-22 situation as they have to decide whom to drop and how to rearrange the batting order to accommodate skipper Virat Kohli, who is returning for the second Test after being rested for the three T20Is and the first Test.
Iyer had scored a century on debut in the first innings (105) and followed it up with 65 in the second essay as New Zealand held on to force a draw with the last-wicket pair of Rashin Ravindra and Ajaz Patel surviving some testing overs in their second innings at the Green Park. Chasing a target of 284, New Zealand held on to 165/9, surviving around 10 overs with Ravindra and Patel holding the fort and keeping the Indian bowlers at bay.
With the first Test ending in a draw the fate of the two-match series depends on Mumbai Test and whichever team wins at the Wankhede will bag the honours. And to do that both teams need to take some tough decisions, especially India who have major concerns to tackle.
Among the questions confronting Kohli and chief coach Rahul Dravid is whom to drop from the playing XI to accommodate the skipper. The middie order barring Iyer did not contribute much to the score in both the Innings in Kanpur and though Kohli’s return improves the batting, the poor form of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane remains a concern. With Iyer in top form and quite confident after his brilliant batting in Kanpur, Kohli and Dravid can’t do a direct swap between him and the skipper. Kohli is a shoo-in into the playing XI considering he had scored a brilliant 235 against England in the last Test played at Wankhede in 2016. Though a lot has changed since then and Kohli is going through a lean patch having struggled to reach the three-figure mark for a considerable amount of time by his lofty standards, he is still India’s best batsman and the most successful captain.
The team management now has to decide whether they go for the current form and include Iyer in the playing XI along with Kohli and drop either Pujara or Rahane. They did get some good news as wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha has recovered the neck spasm that prevented him from keeping wickets midway through the Kanpur Test. And that is one decision less for Kohli and Dravid.
The weather is likely to play a role in the match at least on the opening day as the Met department has predicted rain. It had rained the entire day Wednesday and overnight and though there was some respite for the groundsmen as it did not rain the entire day on Thursday, New Zealand had to cancel their practice sessions at the Wankhede due to the wet conditions caused by rain throughout Wednesday and overnight. The Indians had a session at MCA’s indoor facility at the Bandra Kurla Complex.
Kohli said they will take a call on the team competition later after looking at the conditions. Asked whether India will have to rethink their bowling combination of three spinners and two paces considering the rain and overcast conditions predicted for Friday, Kohli said, “We will look at the conditions and discuss things before taking a call on the bowling combination. We can’t predict that conditions will remain the same throughout the five days. We have to discuss all these things before we come to a conclusion.”
Kohli said that it would not be a tough decision to decide the playing XI as the players are aware of the requirements of the team and weather conditions. He said it will be a decision of consensus after a discussion between him and the coaching staff.
While Kohli and Dravid will be grappling questions over their batting and bowling combinations, New Zealand have their own concerns to tackle.
Though the team is on a high considering the way they held on to draw the first Test, their middle-order has not worked as well as they would have hoped. Skipper Kane Williamson and Gary Sneed will also have to take a call whether to drop a spinner and bring in an extra pacer.
Senior bowler Tim Southee said they will have to take a call in the next 24 hours on this. “Those are the decisions Kane and Gary will have to make in the next 24 hours. They will try and get a look at the wicket in the afternoon and make a decision considering the rain and the weather around,” said Southee during a virtual press conference on Thursday.
New Zealand’s preparations for the second Test were disrupted by the weather and the team had been unable to hold a practice session going into the match. “I guess you can’t do much about it. We’re fortunate to have the last week. The players who weren’t playing got some time to train last week. We had our practice sessions. We as the fast bowlers are kind of happy that we’re getting additional rest, you know. You just back your previous experiences. To be able to front up tomorrow will be the same for both sides. It’s been the same for both sides and It’s something both sides will have to adapt to,” said Southee.
Just like India, New Zealand too have a good record at the Wankhede stadium. Last time they played a Test here in November 1988 and won it.
Talking about the wicket, Kohli said it looks like a typical Wankhede pitch with a nice bounce. “We expect to have some nice bounce, there is value for all kinds of bowlers at the Wankhede and when you bat, you can get runs as well. It is a great wicket for good cricket and all skill sets are in the play all the time, which is a great position to be in because then you know you can utilise your resources very well. This is a pitch that demands a lot of discipline, but at the same time, the rewards of the discipline are also much higher in the percentage as compared to some of the other venues, where spin might be dominant and fast bowlers don’t come into play. But at the Wankhede, that has never been the case. All the fast bowlers, especially in red-ball cricket, really enjoy playing on this patch and even the batsmen love batting here,” he said.
India (from): Virat Kohli (captain), Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), KS Bharat (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, and Prasidh Krishna.
New Zealand (from): Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Latham, Will Young, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Tom Blundell (wk), Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Ajaz Patel, Will Somerville, Rachin Ravindra, Daryl Mitchell, and Mitchell Santner.