After being whitewashed 3-0 in the recently concluded ODI series, the Indian team will be looking forward to their warm-up match against a New Zealand XI which presents a much needed change from the limited overs formats.
Clarity on the opening combination, and a call on whether Ravichandran Ashwin’s variations can trump Ravindra Jadeja’s all-round skill-sets will be the focus for India in the three-day warm-up game. Being a warm-up game, the encounter provides an opportunity for India to test out their opening combination, with only one of Prithvi Shaw or Shubman Gill expected to start. Going by the noises coming out of the Indian camp, it might very well be Gill who starts in that position to stake his claim in the starting XI come next week.
The Indian batsmen will also be faced with the challenge of negotiating against a good bowling attack. The opposition team is full of New Zealand senior and A team players, including leg-spinner Ish Sodhi, all-rounder Jimmy Neesham and wicket-keeper Tim Seifert, in their ranks.
Gill will be itching to show his skipper that he is ready for the big debut which is eagerly anticipated among his growing legion of fans, despite his international career being two-match old.
A flat track like the one at Seddon Park will also be a test for the two frontline spinners with Ashwin and Jadeja getting a chance to test the likes of Daryl Mitchell, Tom Bruce and Seifert in action. A good show on a flat deck can improve Ashwin’s chances of toppling Jadeja even though the proposition looks dim at the moment.
When it comes to India’s wicketkeeping position, Wriddhiman Saha will don the gloves in all probability, while Pant will be kept as a backup. It’s the nature of the position that only one individual can play, and Pant may not have done enough yet to warrant a spot in the starting Test XI.
Even more interesting to see will be Jasprit Bumrah back in action, not having played in the longest format of the game since his back injury. His performances in the T20I series were gradually improving, and while he hasn’t hit top form yet, he is very well on his way to doing so once again.
For the New Zealand XI, there is Dane Cleaver, who has had scores of 196 and 53 in the two A ‘Tests’ against India. He would like to impress the selectors and get into the first team for the Test series.
India’s red-ball overseas warm-up games in the past few years have mostly been two-day affairs with the home team batting on one day and visitors on the other day.
Devoid of first-class status, the matches have been about giving everyone in the squad a chance to have a decent hit between 50 to 100 balls and bowlers getting into the groove with a spell or two.
The hosting Boards also often put up a rag-tag outfit which is a strategic move to deny visiting teams a chance to check out against quality batting or bowling line-up.
However, this warm-up game promises to be different as India are looking to get their combination right for the Test series which is also a part of World Test Championship.
India squad: Virat Kohli (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Hanuma Vihari, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ravichandran Ashwin, Rishabh Pant, Navdeep Saini, Shubman Gill
New Zealand XI: Daryl Mitchell (captain), Finn Allen, Tom Bruce, Dane Cleaver, Henry Cooper, Scott Kuggeleijn, James Neesham, Rachin Ravindra, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi, Blair Tickner, Will Young. 13th men: Jake Gibson (Friday) and Scott Johnston (Saturday and Sunday)
(With PTI Inputs)