NZ v India 1st Test: Shaw or Gill, Jadeja or Ashwin, Saha or Pant - Who plays?
Rishabh Pant, courtesy of his better batting ability, is expected to pip Wriddhiman Saha to the post for the first Test between New Zealand and India at Wellington.
Many believe that picking the right team is 20-30% of the job done. This is the reason why the playing XI is always in focus, especially ahead of a Test series expected to be closely contested.
Here's analysing who's likely to make the cut for the following three spots:
Shaw or Gill?
After the white-ball leg against New Zealand turned out to be a tale of two halves for India, the Test series is upon us. The question that has created the biggest buzz after the injury to Rohit Sharma is who will open alongside Mayank Agarwal - Prithvi Shaw or Shubman Gill?
Both have done exceptionally well in domestic cricket and there is little that separates them. While Prithvi Shaw has a First-class average of 61.73, Gill averages 73.55. Shaw scored a double century in the Ranji Trophy and then blasted 150 in his first game against New Zealand A on tour off just 100 deliveries.
On the other hand, Gill impressed with scores of 204*, 83 and 136 in the two unofficial practice matches against New Zealand A.
Prithvi Shaw is a more attacking batsman which is evident with his First-class strike rate of 81.45 and List A strike rate of 118.18 as opposed to Gill's FC strike rate of 73.37 and List A strike rate of 88.26.
However, in a bid to go after the bowlers, Shaw can be a bit too carefree for his own good. He throws his hands at balls moving away from him. With the Kookaburra ball and in the windy conditions of New Zealand, that brings all three dismissals into play - caught behind, played on and bowled through the bat-pad gap.
Most of Shaw's big runs have been in batting-friendly conditions and the case was similar when he hit his maiden Test century on debut against West Indies in Rajkot.
Gill, on the other hand, is not without his own technical flaws but is a bit more compact. His ability to see through tough periods was on display in his two and a half hour partnership with Hanuma Vihari that helped India save the first unofficial practice match in New Zealand. During his double-century, Gill was chanceless and his game was probably as close to the book as it can get.
But, the management seems to have already made up their mind. It was Prithvi Shaw who came out to open the innings along with Mayank Agarwal in both the innings of the official warm-up match while Shubman Gill batted at number 4. After both could not make big runs in the match, this is how it is expected to remain in the first Test as well.
Saha or Pant?
After Wriddhiman Saha was injured and Dinesh Karthik could not cement his place in the Test team, Rishabh Pant grabbed his opportunities with both hands and became India's regular Test wicketkeeper. With centuries in England and Australia and a couple of 90s against West Indies, he did a great job with the bat. However, it was his wicketkeeping which was always in question.
Hence, when it came to the the home Test matches, after Saha regained full fitness, he pipped the southpaw. India are back in overseas conditions and with Pant possessing more natural ability with the bat, he is likely to play head of Saha.
Saha averages a tick over 30 in Test cricket with a below-par strike rate of 45.5. On the contrary, Rishabh Pant boasts of a Test average of 44.35 and an impactful strike rate of 70.79.
Saha, the batsman, has not been at his best in the last few Test matches with his last half-century coming way back in August 2017. Since return from injury last year, he has scored 21, 24, 12 and 17* in his four Test innings and India would do well to have a bit more than this from their keeper-batsman.
Jadeja or Ashwin?
Another ever-lingering question for the last five-seven years whenever India tour overseas is that of the the first-choice spinner. While Jadeja offers more control, there is little doubt that Ashwin, courtesy of being a classical off-spinner, processes more wicket-taking ability.
Ashwin was contributing with the bat a couple of years ago but things have changed of late. Ashwin's waning returns have coincided with Jadeja's vast batting improvement, so much so that he batted at number 6 in India's home season, and successfully so.
While Ashwin has a batting average of 29, both home and away, there is a gulf between his bowling average of 22.0 at home and average of 31.40 overseas. In Jadeja's case, his home batting average of 38.90 is substantially better than his away average of 30.38. With the ball, his figures are similar to Ashwin, with his away average of 35.06 almost 15 units more than his home average.
With the Wellington surface being batting-friendly, there is also a case for India to play both Jadeja and Ashwin and look to utilise their all-round ability. Ashwin, though, will play for sure.
Predicted Indian XI - 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
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