The weather in Mumbai, New Zealand’s chance to end a long wait, and Virat Kohli’s personal form with the bat are all among the topics of discussion ahead of the second Test between the two sides that begins at the Wankhede Stadium on Friday.
But the center of all attention, at least for followers of Indian cricket, is certainly about the team combination and specifically, what of the batting lineup that needs a change with Kohli returning to the XI.
Kohli returns to lead the Indian team after a mini break as India and New Zealand lock horns in Mumbai in the series decider.
Top-ranked New Zealand, who beat India to win the inaugural World Test Championship in June, have never won a Test series in India and last won a five-day game there in 1988, also in Mumbai.
Ajinkya Rahane stood in as captain of the home side that witnessed a frustrating last-wicket partnership in a thrilling last session of the opening match’s fifth day.
But Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara’s lack of form with the bat and Shreyas Iyer’s prolific scoring – 105 and 65 – in his debut test leave India with a selection headache in Mumbai, where it has rained over the past two days.
There was no direct question posed to Kohli regarding the middle order combination, but he was asked how he deals with telling a player they are not part of the XI. He said any player who failed to make the XI at Wankhede Stadium will understand that the decision is based on team strategy.
“You have to obviously understand the situation of where the team is placed. You have to understand where individuals stand at certain stages during the course of a long season, so you have to obviously communicate well,” Kohli said.
“You have to speak to the individuals and approach them in a way, which explain things to them properly and mostly it’s been combination based whenever we have done changes in the past.
“..... and we have explained to individuals and they have understood our mindset behind going in with a certain combination. So it is not a difficult thing to do when there is collective trust and belief in the group that we are working towards the same vision,” the captain added.
A stubborn last-wicket stand between Rachin Ravindra and Ajaz Patel denied India a win at Kanpur after the pair batted for 52 balls in New Zealand’s 165-9 while chasing 284.
Kohli said wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha had recovered from a neck spasm he suffered in the first Test but would not be drawn on commenting about the line-up.
“Wriddhiman Saha as of now is fit and has recovered from his niggle,” said Kohli.
“We will discuss the combination with the weather changes in mind. Whichever combination we discuss as a group, that’s what we usually come in with on the field.”
“There is a weather change and we have to keep that into account and pick the combination accordingly,” Kohli said on the eve of the match.
“At the end of the day, you cannot assume weather conditions will remain like this over the five days.
“So, we need to see what bowling combination should be picked that can tackle in different conditions. If we reach a common understanding and if everyone agrees, we go in with that combination,” Kohli said.
Kohli was also asked about the recent images of him practising even during his time away from the national team and whether he was working on anything specific.
“It was just to stay in the rhythm of playing red-ball cricket. The idea was to get repetition and volume, which is important in Test cricket,” Kohli said.
“It is just about getting into the mould of switching in-between formats, something that I have always tried to do. Whenever I get the opportunity to get some time to work on setting up for different formats. It is more so mentally than doing anything technique-wise. The more cricket you play, you understand your game more. It is just about getting into that headspace that you want to play in a certain way in a certain format. It was purely based on that.”
Backing Rahane and Pujara
Shreyas Iyer’s 105 and 65 in his debut Test has made it tough for Indian selectors to decide on their final XI.
“I think it’s a good problem to have,” Indian bowling coach Paras Mhambrey had said on Wednesday.
“We have so much talent – speaks a lot about the state Indian cricket is in, and with youngsters coming up, we want to give them the opportunity.
“Someone like Shreyas comes in, gets a hundred and follows it up with a fifty, and that’s fabulous. But sometimes you also have to go in with combinations that suit that particular wicket.”
Ajinkya Rahane, who led India in the first Test of the two-match series, has struggled to score runs and averaged under 20 across 12 matches this year.
Top-order batsman Cheteshwar Pujara has made promising starts but failed to convert them into bigger scores.
“We know that they (Rahane and Pujara) have a lot of experience behind them, they have played enough cricket,” said Mhambrey.
“We also know as a team that they are one inning away from coming good, so as a team, we are backing them.
“We know the value they bring to the team.”
Southee keen to adapt
Tim Southee said Thursday that the New Zealand bowlers will have to adapt quickly to Mumbai’s pitch after two days of rain hampered preparations for the second Test against India.
The tourists were forced to call off their training for the second day running while India did some indoor practice after Mumbai’s unseasonal rains.
“It’s a different lead-in to what we are all expecting,” the 32-year-old quick Southee said.
“I don’t think we were expecting too much rain in the lead-in, but it’s just something that we will have to adapt to.”
Southee took a five-wicket haul in the first innings of the Kanpur Test and ended with eight overall in a match dominated by the Indian spinners.
He said it was too soon to say what conditions Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium would throw up.
“We won’t know if it’s going to swing until we are out there, so it’s something that we will have to adapt to as bowlers here,” said Southee.
“The wicket’s been under covers and may offer a little bit more, but who knows?”
Southee believes the lack of training might be a blessing in disguise for the bowlers, who will return fresh for the final match.
“We are fortunate to have the last week, even the guys that weren’t playing were able to train throughout the Test match,” he said.
“So for us bowlers it’s nice to give the body a bit of a rest and freshen up ahead of another Test match... Yes, you haven’t had the ideal preparation, but there is no excuse.”
Top-ranked New Zealand, who beat India to win the inaugural World Test Championship in June, have never won a Test series in India.
“Always nice to hear of the history of the game and New Zealand doing well here,” said Southee.
“It’s a long time ago, a lot’s changed in that time, but our focus is on us going out there and giving our best over the next five days.”
(With AFP and PTI inputs)
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