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NZ v India 1st Test Preview: Featherbed over classic Kiwi green top dictates team combinations


Win the toss and bowl first will be the way to go at Wellington with the pitch being green on day one and flattening out rapidly over the remaining four days.

Venue - Basin Reserve, Wellington

Start time - 10:30 PM GMT (Feb 20) | 11:30 AM LOCAL (Feb 21)

Head to Head record in Test series - New Zealand: 5 India: 11 Draw: 4

Weather - Mostly cloudy, 21°C, Precipitation: 10%, Humidity: 78%, Wind: 14 km/h

Toil for bowlers

For those who still associate the pitches in New Zealand to be a paradise for bowlers, it is time for reconsideration. The country now offers some of the flattest pitches in world cricket.

There is some grass left on day one to hold the pitch together which assists the bowlers and hence, there are lots of wickets on offer on day one. But things drastically change as the game moves on. There have been phases here in the last couple of years when buying a wicket looks close to impossible.

In the last four years, the average first inning score in New Zealand has been just 276 while that in the second innings has been 417. The figures in most other places reverse themselves. This is why the country has to be treated differently by visiting teams.

In fact, teams batting first in Tests matches here in the last 19 innings have been bowled out for less than 300 11 times which is quite a telling stat. Since 2016, the team batting second in Wellington has won 11 games as opposed to the team batting first winning just thrice. You know what you need to do if the coin flick goes in your favour.

India to go in with only 5 specialist batsmen

Spots in the playing XI are are seldom independent. If an extra specialist batsman plays, the captain then wants to have proper bowlers as well. In case, there is a batting all-rounder in the side, a bowling all-rounder can provide more balance. If the wicketkeeper is a good enough batsman, the team can then opt for an extra bowling option.

India are expected to hand Prithvi Shaw their third Test cap ahead of Shubman Gill for his aggressive approach. It is notable that the Test team requires a replacement for Rohit Sharma who is very dominating and takes the game away from the opposition. India will be looking for a similar player in the mould of Virender Sehwag who alongside Mayank Agrawal can take the attack to the opposition right away.

While India have shown their faith in Wriddhiman Saha in home conditions, they are expected to go in with Rishabh Pant on this tour. The crux of the matter is that Saha is a better wicketkeeper and Pant is a better batsman. While India are so dominant in their home conditions that they can afford to play a specialist keeper who does not contribute much with the bat, things change on tours.

It only helps that the keeper has to mostly keep to the pacers and doesn't have to stand up to the wickets as much in places like New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and England. This substantially decreases the chance of mistakes as there is more skill and better reflexes required against the spinning ball with very little reaction time.

The surface at Basin Reserve does not break much, which is why teams playing here in the recent past have opted to go in with an all pace attack. However, India can choose to play Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Hanuma Vihari. This will allow them to keep both spinning all-rounders in their playing XI.

With Rishabh Pant further bolstering the team's batting, they will then have a more well-rounded XI with the availability of both attacking and defensive options.

New Zealand to opt for a four-prong pace attack

Courtesy of announcing just a 13-member squad, New Zealand do not have a lot of choices to make. Under ideal circumstances, they would have liked to continue with all three of Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner which has brought them success in the recent past.

However, Wagner is expecting the birth of his first child and the Kiwi management has added Matt Henry to the squad at the last minute. In case Wagner is not available, it is almost certain that the team will bet on the rookie pacer Kyle Jamieson.

With Ajaz Patel being the only spinner in their squad, there are no two ways about him playing at Wellington.

Here's a look at the probable playing XI of both teams:

New Zealand - Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner/Kyle Jamieson, Trent Boult, Ajaz Patel

India - Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja/ Navdeep Saini, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah

This is where you can catch all the live action across the globe:

India & Subcontinent: Star Sports, Hotstar

New Zealand: SKY Sport NZ

UK: Sky Sports Cricket

Australia: Fox Sports

South Africa: SuperSport

Canada: ATN Cricket Plus (Asian Television Network), CBN

USA: Willow TV, Hotstar

Malaysia: Astro Cricket HD

Middle East and North Africa (MENA): OSN Sports Cricket HD

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