NEW DELHI: A 3-0 clean sweep against the 2021 T20 World Cup finalists New Zealand in the recently concluded T20I series and Team India will be brimming with confidence as both the teams now head into an intense two-Test series, starting November 25 in Kanpur.
While India will be playing their first home series of the 2021-23 World Test Championship cycle, the Kiwis will be on their first red-ball assignment since June WTC Final which was coincidentally against the same Team - India.
As crucial World Test Championship points will be up for grabs in the upcoming series, Team India, in familiar home conditions, will also be looking for something extra against the Kiwis. The 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat, the 0-2 whitewash in New Zealand in 2020, the WTC Final defeat in June and the group-stage loss in the recently concluded T20 World Cup - India will have some scores to settle with their bogey team.
And even though some high profile names will be missing in the Test series due to rotation policies of both the teams, an enthralling battle is on the cards between the top two sides (NZ - Number 1, India - Number 2) of the longest format.
India will be without the services of Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Rishabh Pant -- who have been rested for the series -- but the psychological advantage of the T20I series win, the invaluable mentorship of new coach Rahul Dravid and a team comprising a perfect mix of experienced and upcoming stars will all work in India's favour in the upcoming challenge from the reigning World Test champions.
TimesofIndia.com here takes a look at some of the Indian players to watch out for in the upcoming Test series against the current World no. 1 Test team:
Virat Kohli (India captain - only second Test)
November 23, 2019 when Virat Kohli last scored a century in international cricket. For more than two years now, the entire country has been waiting for the batting maestro to return to his former prolific self. Currently on a break after a grueling stretch of non-stop cricket, Virat will miss the first Test against New Zealand in Kanpur but when he steps back onto the park in the second Test, he will be once again in the spotlight. Fresh from a much-needed break, Virat, like always, will be one of the main men for India. Going through a lean patch, Virat, this year has averaged just 29.80 in 9 Tests (447 runs). Short on runs, the pressure of not having scored an international century for the last two years, Virat will be hungry to perform when he steps onto the field against the Blackcaps on December 3 for the second Test. Despite not scoring an international ton in the last two years, Virat's form in limited overs cricket hasn't really dipped substantially. But his Test average has suffered. Since his last ton in 2019 (vs Bangladesh in the DN Test in Kolkata) Virats Test average has been 26.80 and the Indian captain will be itching to change those stats. Remember Virat still has an average of over 50 in all three formats of the game.
Virat Kohli overall stats in Tests: M 96 | Runs 7765 | HS 254* | Avg 51.08 | 100s 27 | 50s 27
Virat Kohli against New Zealand in Tests: M 10 | Runs 830 | HS 211 | Avg 48.82 | 100s 3 | 50s 3
Ajinkya Rahane (Stand in captain for first Test)
11 Tests, a mere 372 runs at a below-par average of 19.57 in 2021 so far. Ajinkya Rahane might be going through torrid times, but the ever-resistant India batter will have to be up for the challenge when India takes on the reigning Test champions New Zealand. The spotlight will firmly be on him as a middle order batsman and also as stand-in captain for the first Test in Kanpur. Short on runs, the series can be a make or break one for Rahane. The 33-year-old has been one of India's biggest strengths in the middle order in the past and in the absence of some big names, Rahane will look to take on more responsibility. A technically solid batsman, specially in home conditions, Rahane could be one of New Zealand's biggest headaches in the upcoming series. Overall in his career so far, Rahane has played 78 Tests, scoring 4756 runs at an average of 39.63. He has so far scored 12 Test tons and 24 half centuries.
Ajinkya Rahane overall stats in Tests: M 78 | Runs 4756 | HS 188 | Avg 39.63 | 100s 12 | 50s 24
Ajinkya Rahane against New Zealand in Tests: M 8 | Runs 664 | HS 188 | Avg 47.42 | 100s 2 | 50s 1
One one the most talented youngsters in world cricket currently, Shubman Gill, in his short Test career so far has shown signs that he could well be a long term bet. The 22-year-old might have just played 8 Tests so far, out of which 7 have been in 2021 itself, but the stylish right-hander has shown that he belongs at the highest level, if groomed right. Although reports suggested that Shubman might be asked to bat in the middle order by the team management, the injury and subsequent exit of KL Rahul from the series means that Gill will go back to his usual spot of opening the batting. A solid player of both quicks and the spinners, Shubman's stroke-making ability sets him apart and in home conditions he might find it relatively easy and can be a big danger for the Kiwis. In the 8 Tests Shubman has played so far, he has scored 414 runs, with a highest score of 91.
Shubman Gill overall stats in Tests: M 8 | Runs 414 | HS 91 | Avg 31.84 | 100s 0 | 50s 3
Shubman Gill against New Zealand in Tests: M 1 | Runs 36 | HS 28 | Avg 18 | 100s 0 | 50s 0
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Hands down the most effective Indian spinner in Test cricket R Ashwin has recently been doing well in limited overs cricket as well. But now he will refocus on the longest format of the game and try to go back to being the spinner who has been unplayable on Indian pitches in recent years. In the India-England Test series earlier this year, Ashwin took a mind-boggling 33 wickets in 4 Tests. The opposition batters were absolutely clueless about what they were up against while facing him. Ashwin could well be India's biggest weapon in the bowling department. Thanks to the precision with which Ashwin bowls on Indian pitches and the purchase he gets off surfaces, the likes of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor too might be troubled by the top class offie. Ashwin's batting prowess in Tests also makes him a very valuable member of Team India. Three out of 5 Ashwin's Test tons have come at home. Overall in Test cricket, Ashwin has taken 413 wickets in 79 Tests and has scored 2685 runs, with 5 centuries and 11 half centuries.
R Ashwin overall stats in Tests: M 79 | Runs 2685 | HS 124 | Avg 27.68 | 100s 5 | 50s 11 | Wickets 413 | BBI 7/59 | 5W 30 | 10W 7
R Ashwin against New Zealand in Tests: M 7 | Runs 173 | HS 40 | Avg 21.62 | 100s 0 | 50s 0 | Wickets 52 | BBI 7/59 | 5W 6 | 10W 3
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Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Siraj
All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja has been a proven performer for India in recent years. A true all-rounder who has contributed in all the departments with consistency, Jadeja lends a lot of balance to the team. His precise line and length with the ball have more often than not troubled top batsmen and his stroke-making ability with the bat strengthens the Indian batting-order. Fresh from a break, Jadeja will be raring to go in the 2-Test series against the Kiwis.
Ravindra Jadeja overall stats in Tests: M 56 | Runs 2145 | HS 100* | Avg 34.04 | 100s 1 | 50s 16 | | Wickets 227 | BBI 7/48 | 5W 9 | 10W 1
Ravindra Jadeja against New Zealand in Tests: M 7 | Runs 267 | HS 50* | Avg 38.14 | 100s 0 | 50s 1 | | Wickets 20 | BBI 5/73 | 5W 1 | 10W 0
Pacer Mohammed Siraj will also be playing his first red-ball game after the England series. After the IPL in UAE that followed the England series, Siraj got a break since he was not part of India's T20 World Cup squad. The 27-year-old was recently seen in the T20I series against New Zealand but looked a bit rusty. However the pacer has been consistently doing well in the longer format. He had a big role to play in India winning their last Test series in Australia, finishing as the highest wicket taker for India in the series (13 wickets in 3 Tests). An out-and-out quick bowler, who bowls his heart out on the field, Siraj has got the ability to move the new ball both ways. He could well be a standout performer for the hosts in the upcoming two Test series.
Mohammed Siraj overall stats in Tests: M 9 | Wickets 30 | BBI 5/73 | | BBM 8/126 | 5W 1 | 10W 0