Figuring out the bowling combination and finding the right opening pair for batting will be the focus for India as they face New Zealand in a three-day warm-up game starting in Hamilton on Friday.
After the harsh reality check of a 0-3 drubbing in the recently-concluded One-Day International series, a red-ball warm-up game will be good preparation for Virat Kohli and his men ahead of the two-match Test series starting next week.
India could not have asked for a better practice game as the opposition team is full of New Zealand senior and A team players, including leg-spinner Ish Sodhi, all-rounder Jimmy Neesham and wicketkeeper Tim Seifert, in its ranks.
The likes of Scott Kuggeliejn and Blair Tickner will provide a stern test for Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill as they make a case for their inclusion in the playing XI for the first Test starting in Wellington on February 21.
A flat track like the one at Seddon Park will also be a test for India’s two frontline spinners – Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. A good show can improve Ashwin’s chances of making the XI ahead of Jadeja even though the latter’s chances of playing the first Test look brighter at the moment.
For the New Zealand XI, there is Dane Cleaver, who has had scores of 196 and 53 in the two A Tests against India. He would like to impress the selectors and get into the first team for the Test series.
India’s middle-order seems settled, with Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari amongst the runs in the match against New Zealand A last week. Skipper Kohli, though, will look to get a decent hit before the Test series starts as he wasn’t at his best in the white-ball leg of the tour.
In the fast bowling department, the visitors are likely to go in with Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav. Navdeep Saini is the other pacer in the squad. The upcoming warm-up game is also important for Bumrah. Just like his captain, the right-arm quick has been off colour recently and will look to get back his rhythm.
India’s red-ball overseas warm-up games in the past few years have mostly been two-day affairs with the home team batting on one day and visitors on the other day. Devoid of first-class status, the matches have been about giving the batters a chance to have a decent hit and the bowlers to get into their groove with a spell or two.
However, this warm-up game promises to be different as India are looking to get their combination right for the Test series which is also a part of ICC World Test Championship.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Hanuma Vihari, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ravichandran Ashwin, Rishabh Pant, Navdeep Saini, Shubman Gill.
New Zealand XI: Daryl Mitchell (captain), Finn Allen, Tom Bruce, Dane Cleaver, Henry Cooper, Scott Kuggeleijn, James Neesham, Rachin Ravindra, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi, Blair Tickner, Will Young. 13th man: Jake Gibson (Friday) and Scott Johnston (Saturday and Sunday).
Match starts at 3:30 am IST on Friday.
(With inputs from PTI)