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Rain looms as India readies for landmark 500th Test

September 21, 2016 14:26 IST

India cricketers at a practice session in Kanpur on Sunday

IMAGE: India cricketers at a practice session in Kanpur on Sunday. Photograph: BCCI/Twitter

A formidable Indian cricket team is likely to revel in home conditions, as they prepare to host and dominate New Zealand in the first Test in Kanpur, from Thursday, heralding the beginning of a long 13-match home season.

With a slice of history attached to the match – it will be India’s 500th Test since it started playing the game 80 years back – India will hope up a special show.

The team played its first ever Test when it was a British colony in 1932 but over the years, has established itself as a force in world cricket.

The Indian team has always been an intimidating side on spin-friendly tracks under sultry conditions and the script is unlikely to change, unless the Kiwis master the conditions.

However, the threat of rain looms large on the opening Test of the three-match series with predictions of heavy downpour in the next six days.

The GreenPark track promises to be a true Indian Test wicket where spinners will have a major role to play and skipper Virat Kohli will have no hesitation in going in with Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra.

Moreover, New Zealand have not had enough practice to get ready for the series. The only warm-up game they played against Mumbai was on a flat Feroz Shah Kotla track in Delhi, where their bowlers bled runs.

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson at a nets session

IMAGE: New Zealand captain Kane Williamson at a nets session. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Martin Guptill, one of the Kiwis' best batsmen in recent times, lasted a mere 21 balls in his two innings even as Luke Ronchi staked claim for the opener's slot with a century in the second innings of that game.

It was Mumbai who dominated the practice match with three of their batsmen striking a century each in the first innings.

Even history is heavily stacked against the visitors, who have not won a Test on Indian soil in their last 14 attempts. The last Test New Zealand won in India was way back in 1998.

In the 15-man squad, young captain Kane Williamson along with Ross Taylor is the most experienced player, having played five Tests in India.

In complete contrast, India have won nine of their last 10 Tests played at home and the only draw was against South Africa last year, in Bangalore, in a weather-affected contest.

The headache for India would be to determine the opening the slots.

Left-hander Shikhar Dhawan, who struggled to get a single fifty during the West Indies Tour, is still facing competition from the young KL Rahul, who had impressed in the Caribbean by scoring a century each in both Tests and T20s.

Shikhar Dhawan plays the pull shot

IMAGE: Shikhar Dhawan plays the pull shot. Photograph: v

Dhawan himself has said that competition is good for the Indian team and it will not be a surprise if Rahul gets to open with Murali Vijay.

Although Vijay also did not have a great Caribbean Tour, it remains to be seen who gets the axe.

Cheteshwar Pujara also had an ordinary West Indies tour but is a certainty in the middle order along with skipper Kohli, after a strong showing in the Duleep Trophy, where he hit an unbeaten 256 for India Blue.

The series will be a big test for Rohit Sharma, whose prodigious talent has always been a topic of discussion. Labelled as an underachiever in Tests, he has not done enough justice to his abilities following inconsistent performances.

The Mumbaikar is fighting for one of the middle order positions with Ranji teammate Ajinkya Rahane, who was impressive in the West Indies series, having scored a century and a fifty.

With spinners set to play a major role in this series, Jadeja with his left-arm spin and batting ability is an easy pick along with leg-spinner Amit Mishra and the seasoned Ashwin.

Having Jadeja in the ranks gives Kohli that extra batsman in the side.

With Ishant Sharma ruled out of the 1st Test, it is now a three-way fight between Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshvar Kumar and Umesh Yadav for the two fast bowling places.

Ish Sodhi

IMAGE: Ish Sodhi. Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

New Zealand have their own problems with paceman Tim Southee being ruled out of the series due to an ankle injury, while all-rounder James Neesham will miss the opening Test due to a rib injury.

For New Zealand, much would depend on how skipper Williamson, Guptill and Ross Taylor fare. On their own, they are class act but the challenging conditions and spinning track will certainly make their life tough.

Leg-break bowler Ish Sodhi and left-armer Mitchell Santner will lead the spin front for the visitors.

The spin-friendly track will help them too but the way they were handled by the Mumbai batsmen in Kotla game, the visiting team spinners are unlikely to trouble the strong home batting line-up.

Teams (from):

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Mark Craig, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, James Neesham, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner and  BJ Watling.

India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane (vice captain), Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshvar Kumar, Amit Mishra, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav.

Match starts: 09:30am IST.

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