There is a dearth of spectators to appreciate this format as India launches a season of hope on the landmark occasion of playing its 500th Test. The venue may lack in cricket culture but then it is one of the oldest and permanent centres of the country.
As the team chases history and fame, Virat Kohli, an outstanding icon of the game in times of distress for those in charge of the administration, brings a certain verve and flair to the job of playing Test cricket. If fans flock to cheer the teams, much credit should go to this delightful ambassador.
Green Park, a venue that retains the old world charm, has been colourfully decked up. But the most significant piece of turf — the 22-yard pitch — is what holds the attention. Different opinions pour in from all quarters — three-day pitch, very little grass, less rolling, might crumble; all because of its past when the playing surface came in for some scathing criticism. The present, however, gives a different picture.
Curator Shiv Kumar emphatically says, “It is a good pitch with true bounce. First day best for batting. The last two for bowling. You will enjoy the cricket.”
A pitch with true bounce ensures good cricket. This would be in sharp contrast to some of the embarrassing results in the recent past — five of the last seven Tests in India have ended within three days. In all there have been 13 instances of Tests ending in three days with India winning nine of them.
New Zealand can be expected to offer better resistance to spin than South Africa and Australia. Kohli too respects New Zealand. “Kane (Williamson) has been leading the side really well. He is a very exciting cricketer himself. We expect really good competition and good hard fought cricket.”
The Kiwis may also look to play three spinners and test the Indians’ uncertainty against the slow ball — an irony given the fact that India has consistently produced some of the finest players of spin.
Kohli, who loves to play five bowlers, may be tempted to alter the trend here. “We may try any combination. Obviously we won’t disclose it. We have tried five pure bowlers. In Sri Lanka we tried four bowlers and an all-rounder. In West Indies, we went back to five bowlers and in the last Test we went in with four bowlers.
“I don’t think it is logical in the long run to go with one track mindset because then you tend to become predictable. You have to play extra bowler or batsman according to the conditions,” Kohli observed.
Six batsmen in line-up
There is merit in trying out six batsmen — M. Vijay, K.L. Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. Others who pick themselves are R. Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha, leaving the last three slots to Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami.
It would be a hard decision for Kohli to leave out Shikhar Dhawan, Amit Mishra and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the last-mentioned a bowler for all seasons.
The Indian captain revealed his mind when he said, “We spoke about solidifying our batting a bit more especially on wickets like these because most teams have quality spinners these days. In some conditions we might not need a fifth bowler and so we have to be smart about the combination we want to play,” he said.
The Indians’ issue with playing spin may better be addressed at the beginning of the season than repent when England and Australia visit in winter.
One area they concentrated on Wednesday was snapping nicks and bat-pad deflections. Fielding coach R. Sridhar was engaged in keeping the close-in fielders on their toes with a lengthy session in the middle. Do they expect the pitch to assist the spinners big? R. Ashwin aimed at hitting the top of the stumps. Would bounce be a factor too?
Interesting questions ahead of an interesting contest!
The teams (from):
India: Virat Kohli (capt.), K.L. Rahul, M. Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, R. Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Mohammed Shami, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha, Rohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt.), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Mark Craig, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner and B-J. Watling.
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough and Rod Tucker; Third umpire: Anil Chaudhary; Match Referee: David Boon.
Hours of play: 9.30 to 11.30 a.m.; 12.10 to 2.10 p.m.; 2.30 p.m. onwards.