Team India look to make a fresh start ahead of Test series
Hammered in the ODIs, the Indian cricket team would look to make a fresh start in its so far disappointing tour of New Zealand when it takes
on the hosts in a two-day practice game in Whangerei on Sunday to build up for the two-match Test series.
The ODI series was a thorough disaster for the visitors, who lost their number one ranking in the course of the 0-4 thrashing.
And Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men would be aiming to put that behind them when they begin the Test leg of the tour in Whangarei. The Test series starts February 6. It is a quiet town, much like Napier where the ODI leg started two weeks ago.
The tour started without much fan-fare allowing the Indian team nearly five days of practice, and while they made good use of the facilities provided there, it didn't really show up on the field in the ensuing contests.
The visitors should enjoy two good days of practice
Whangarei is similarly quiet and perhaps the team could do with some introspection, away from the spotlight. It is a parallel reflection from the South African tour previously, wherein the Indian team had also lost the ODI series, riddled with short bowling and inadequate application from both
batsmen and bowlers.
The big difference is that their practice game on that tour was washed out due to unseasonal rains and wet outfield. in Whangarei, on the other hand, the bright sun is out and the visitors should enjoy two good days of cricket.
Despite missing out on practice in South Africa, the team showed enough resilience to bounce back from their ODI series loss and perform well in the two-Test series, albeit losing it 1-0 as well on the last day of the trip.
They can take heart from that performance and hope to find some solutions to the many problems that dogged them on their overseas journeys recently. At the same time, they need to be mindful of the different requirements of the longer format and the adjustments they need to make.
Pujara's presence will reinforce the team
The squad stays nearly similar barring the departure of four players, Suresh Raina, Stuart Binny, Amit Mishra and Varun Aaron.
At the same time they will be reinforced by the presence of Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Vijay, Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav and Wriddhiman Saha. The blue flannels will be replaced by the white ones and after some restructuring the Indian team shall bear a Test look again.
During the ODI series, Dhoni had spoken about the "need to reflect on the game whilst away from it", and it remains to be seen if any Test regulars will spend time on the sidelines in this match.
Shami has been the key bowler so far
Test-regulars Vijay, Pujara and Zaheer will be keen to get their business underway, while Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma need some runs under their belts.
Ambati Rayudu could play if Virat Kohli is one of the batsmen to be rested. Meanwhile, the captain himself could do with some as well, although that is a highly unlikely scenario.
Mohammad Shami has been the beast of burden among the quicker bowlers, and he too could do with time away. There could be a two-way toss-up between Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav, or both could play with Ishwar Pandey still sitting out, depending upon the combination the team management wants to go ahead with.
Ashwin will be in contention for that one spin-slot
Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin will be in contention for that one spin-slot. While the former has been miles ahead with bat and ball, the latter's batting ability cannot be neglected.
It remains to be seen if both of them are included in this playing eleven -- or twelve -- considering such games do allow for this provision to be made.
It will also be interesting to see what the Indian team can get out of this game, with 100 overs bowled each day, given the short turn-around between the ODI series and this practice match. From the home team's point of view, Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford were earlier part of this New Zealand XI squad to get a taste of the Indian bowling line-up ahead of the Test series.
They have been released since, as the two batsmen opted to go and play for their domestic teams in the ongoing Plunket Shield.
George Worker and Robbie O'Donnell have been inducted into the squad. It is interesting to note that this squad consists of three Under-19 New Zealand players -- O'Donnell, Tim Seifert and Shawn Hicks -- who will shortly be on their way to the junior World Cup in Dubai later this month.