On Friday, February 21, India and New Zealand are going to lock horns on New Zealand soil for the purest form of cricket. This will be the first test match for India on NZ soil in six years time. India has not won a test series in NZ since 2009. Back in 2014 When India and NZ played the last test match in NZ, India was thrashed mercilessly especially by Brendon McCullam.

In 2020, India and NZ both have built competitive test squads who are competent enough to beat their oppositions at home and away. India’s current test ranking speaks for India’s dominance in the test cricket while NZ’s test record at home says it all.

Winning a maiden test series against Kangaroos in Australia in 70 years is the biggest achievement for Kohli’s test team. On the other hand, NZ lost the away test series against SriLanka and Australia.

Let’s take a look at some of the trump cards both teams have and nightmares both teams will be facing before and during the upcoming test series.

India | Squad:

Virat Kohli (Captain), Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (Keeper), Rishabh Pant (Keeper), Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Navdeep Saini, Ishant Sharma

Trump Cards

Fantastic Four of Indian batting

India’s batting top order looks solid with Mayank Agrawal, Shaw/Gill, Pujara and Kohli. In recent times, India’s top order combination has not been consistent but given an opportunity, each player stepped up and performed exceptionally well. India has Pujara and Kohli batting at number three and four which gives more stability to Indian batting top order. In the upcoming Test series against NZ, the batting form of Agrawal, Pujara and Kohli is going to be very very crucial if India wants to win.

Middle and lower-middle order can also bat

Indian vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane provides stability to India’s middle order. His patience and ability to stay on the crease for long makes him a reliable middle-order batsman. Hanuma Vihari’s recent form against NZ A makes him the secret weapon as a middle-order batsman as well as a handy bowler. At the lower middle order, two of India's favourite Ravi (Ashwin and Jadeja) can be really handy batsmen when it comes to rescuing the team in trouble situations.

Fast bowling attack is a luxury

The current fast bowling attack is no less than a luxury for Kohli. Credit for India’s recent test performance both at home and away goes to Fantastic Four especially Bumrah, Ishant, Shami and Umesh Yadav. As a result of some sharp fast bowling, India was able to threaten their opponent in their own backyard. In the recent past, Indian fast bowlers were more effective than spinners who helped India to take 20 wickets in a match in the majority of tests. In 8 test matches played in 2019 Indian fast bowlers picked 95 wickets (a wicket every 31 balls) including 6 five-wicket hauls.

Nightmares

Absence of experienced openers:  The injury ruled out Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan from the NZ test series and Rahul is not in the test squad for his inconsistent performance in tests hence India will have to play with a naive opening pair.

Wicket Keeping chaos continues: India will be scratching their head to decide whether to play Pant or Saha. Pant has been outstanding away wicketkeeper for India who scored centuries in England and Australia while Saha has been brilliant with his gloves.

Jadeja or Ashwin:  If India is playing with four pacers that means India can only play with Jadeja or Ashwin.

Too many fast bowling options: India selected a solid fast bowling attack for NZ test series. Bumrah, Ishant, Umesh, Shami and uncapped Saini are included. It is going to be a big headache for the team management to decide who to play with.

New Zealand | Squad

Kane Williamson (Captain), Henry Nicholls, Ross Taylor, Colin de Grandhomme, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell, Tom Latham, BJ Watling, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson, Ajaz Patel, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Matt Henry

Trump Cards

The silent killing top order

NZ top order is known for their calm nature when it comes to batting in the early overs. After hitting a century at MCG last year, Tom Blundell sidelined Raval from the opening spot. So, we are going to witness Tom and Tom opening in the tests against India. Latham is known for building his inning slowly as well as his recent form in the test cricket gives him a lot of confidence. Kane’s natural game gives him an upper hand when it comes to batting at number three in tests. Experienced Ross’ rich form is going to be the biggest plus point for NZ at the top order batting lineup.

Damaging middle and lower-middle order:

NZ’s secret of scoring bigger runs especially at home conditions is their reliable middle-order batsmen. Henry Nicholls, B J Watling and Colin De Grandhomme have abilities to destroy any bowling attack. Also, Southee is a really handy batsman when it comes to scoring quick runs or building a partnership when a team is in need.

The fiery fast bowling attack

Bowling triplet for NZ (Wagner, Boult and Southee) is one of the best fast bowling options Kane has at the moment. Wagner's recent test form in Australia put him on top of NZ’s current best fast bowler in red-ball cricket. After a brilliant performance in the ODI series, Kyle Jamieson’s inclusion in the Test squad adds a cherry on the cake.

Note: According to the latest reports Wagner may be unavailable for the first test match due to personal reasons. Matt Henry is included as Wagner’s replacement.

Black Caps Test Squad (Picture Courtesy: New Zealand Cricket)

Nightmares

Opening Pair: NZ’s opening pair has not been quite productive in recent times especially with Latham and Raval. After Raval’s exclusion, Blundell and Latham have high expectations in ensuring that NZ does not lose early wickets.

Injury: Kane recently returned from the shoulder injury as well as Boult. It is not going to be easy for NZ’s most experienced players to return from injury and perform in the longest format of the game.

Wagner’s unavailability: Due to personal reasons, Wagner has made himself unavailable for the first test. This can be a big relief for India and is a real drawback for NZ as no.2 ranked bowler in tests is not going to play the first test.

Lesser-Known Facts about both teams and players:

  • Ross Taylor, by playing the first test match against India at Wellington is going to be the first cricketer ever to play 100 games in each format (ODI, T20 and Test).
  • NZ has such a diverse test squad. Ajaz Patel was born in India, BJ Watling in SA, Neil Wagner in SA and Colin De Grandhomme in Zimbabwe.
  • Rishabh Pant is the first and only Indian wicketkeeper to score centuries in both England and Australia.
  • Ravi Jadeja has three triple hundreds by his name in the first-class cricket, even before making his test debut.
  • Ashwin was the highest wicket-taking (562 wickets) bowler in the last decade across all formats.
  • Total 9 players from India (4) and NZ (5) test squad scored at least a half-century in their debut test match. Find out who?