India may be currently perched on top of the league table of the World Test Championship. But that will count for nothing against a rampant New Zealand team who can be quite a handful on their home turf. Ahead of the series opener at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, The Indian Express predicts India’s Playing XI.
Mayank Agarwal: Since his debut against Australia at the MCG in December 2018, Mayank has made the opening slot pretty much his own. He did endure a tough time on the India A tour to New Zealand recently. However, he seems to have rediscovered his rhythm with a 99-ball 81 in the second innings of the practice game at Hamilton last week.
Prithvi Shaw: Replacing an injured Rohit Sharma will not be an easy task, and the youngster will have big shoes to fill. Returning to international cricket in the recently concluded 3-match ODI series against New Zealand, Shaw did look tentative. Nevertheless, he will pip his U-19 World Cup team-mate Shubman Gill for the second opener’s slot.
Cheteshwar Pujara: India’s Test No.3 batsman’s career has gone through several ups and downs since his last New Zealand tour in 2014, where he could aggregate just 60 runs from the four innings. He will be looking to make amends this time around.
Virat Kohli (c): Once again, the onus will be on the Indian captain to provide his team the much-needed solidity in the middle order. Mohammad Azharuddin was the last Indian captain to score a Test century in New Zealand (that was way back in the 1998-99 tour). This is a stat that that Kohli will look to alter by the end of this series.
Ajinkya Rahane: Like Pujara and Kohli, Rahane too will be shouldering the responsibility of scoring bulk of the team’s runs and in weathering the battery of New Zealand pacers.
Hanuma Vihari: The Andhra batsman is likely to get the nod ahead of a Ravichandran Ashwin in the lower middle order. He impressed in the practice game with a courageous century. Apart from that, the team management would be tempted to play with an extra batsman in the series opener.
Wriddhiman Saha (wk): He walks into this playing XI without any fuss. Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri have not missed an opportunity to hail Saha as the best wicket-keeper in contemporary cricket. This essentially means that Rishabh Pant will have to spend another two weeks ferrying drinks.
Ravindra Jadeja: In recent times, Jadeja’s contributions with the bat lower down the order has made him an ideal candidate for the No.8 slot. Apart from being a handy batsman, he is also a very capable spin bowler and a livewire on the field.
Ishant Sharma: The lanky Delhi pacer was in doubt for this tour after having twisted an ankle during a Ranji Trophy game in December. The 96-Test veteran is back, after having successfully cleared the fitness test. Umesh Yadav and the fiery Navdeep Saini are others who are waiting in the wings to grab the spot of the third seamer. However, a fit Ishant, with his wealth of experience, will be difficult to ignore.
Mohammed Shami: He will be looking to continue his excellent bowling form in the upcoming series. He will be bolstered by the return of Jasprit Bumrah.
Jasprit Bumrah: Bumrah returns to long-form cricket after having recovered from a stress fracture — he last played in this format against the West Indies in September 2019. However, there’s little doubt about the threat he poses.
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