Virat Kohli loves the longest format. Virat Kohli loves a challenge.
Starting on Friday, the two-match Test series in New Zealand will be Kohli’s next big challenge in the longest format; not least because it is the first major obstacle for India in the ICC World Test Championship and the team’s perfect record will be put to stern test.
Speaking ahead of the opening Test against New Zealand in Wellington on Friday, the 31-year-old was his usual buoyant self: something about playing Test cricket brings out the enthusiasm from Kohli during press conferences.
Kohli, who took over the Test captaincy in late 2014, has no doubts that World Test Championship has added a context to the traditional format making the contests more exciting with points on offer.
“It has made Test cricket more exciting and that’s something we have experienced as a side although we haven’t had too many games away from home. Couple of games in the West Indies and we haven’t had a tour of Australia as a part of Test Championship. This is our first away tour since the start of home season,” said Kohli.
Head-to-head between India & NZ in Tests
|Overall||in India||in NZ|
New Zealand, of course, has a special place in Indian cricket history. It was there in 1968 that India won a Test series away from home for the first ever time.
India's Test matches in New Zealand
|Feb 15-20, 1968||India||5 wickets||Dunedin|
|Feb 22-27, 1968||New Zealand||6 wickets||Christchurch|
|Feb 29-Mar 4, 1968||India||8 wickets||Wellington|
|Mar 7-12, 1968||India||272 runs||Auckland|
|Jan 24-28, 1976||India||8 wickets||Auckland|
|Feb 5-10, 1976||drawn||Christchurch|
|Feb 13-17, 1976||New Zealand||inns & 33 runs||Wellington|
|Feb 21-25, 1981||New Zealand||62 runs||Wellington|
|Mar 6-11, 1981||drawn||Christchurch|
|Mar 13-18, 1981||drawn||Auckland|
|Feb 2-5, 1990||New Zealand||10 wickets||Christchurch|
|Feb 9-13, 1990||drawn||Napier|
|Feb 22-26, 1990||drawn||Auckland|
|Mar 19-23, 1994||drawn||Hamilton|
|Dec 18-22, 1998||abandoned||Dunedin|
|Dec 26-30, 1998||New Zealand||4 wickets||Wellington|
|Jan 2-6, 1999||drawn||Hamilton|
|Dec 12-14, 2002||New Zealand||10 wickets||Wellington|
|Dec 19-22, 2002||New Zealand||4 wickets||Hamilton|
|Mar 18-21, 2009||India||10 wickets||Hamilton|
|Mar 26-30, 2009||drawn||Napier|
|Apr 3-7, 2009||drawn||Wellington|
|Feb 6-9, 2014||New Zealand||40 runs||Auckland|
|Feb 14-18, 2014||drawn||Wellington|
Over nine previous visits to New Zealand to play Test cricket, India have won a series twice. It also goes to show that New Zealand vs India is simply not a prolific rivalry in Test cricket because this is the first time the Indians are touring the country since the 2013-’14 season.
India's Test series results in NZ
|India in New Zealand Test Series||1967/68||India||3-1 (4)|
|India in New Zealand Test Series||1975/76||drawn||1-1 (3)|
|India in New Zealand Test Series||1980/81||New Zealand||1-0 (3)|
|India in New Zealand Test Series||1989/90||New Zealand||1-0 (3)|
|India in New Zealand Test Match||1993/94||drawn||0-0 (1)|
|India in New Zealand Test Series||1998/99||New Zealand||1-0 (2)|
|India in New Zealand Test Series||2002/03||New Zealand||2-0 (2)|
|India in New Zealand Test Series||2008/09||India||1-0 (3)|
|India in New Zealand Test Series||2013/14||New Zealand||1-0 (2)|
Now, let’s look at India’s best batsmen and bowlers during their previous Test tours of New Zealand:
There should be no surprise that Sachin Tendulkar sits at the top of the run-scoring charts for India when it comes to Tests in New Zealand. The Little Master enjoyed an average of close to 50 in the 11 matches he has played, scoring two centuries in the process. Only four Indian batsmen have managed to score more than one Test century in New Zealand and Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane will have the chance to match or better that in this series if they score one or more tons.
Leading run-scorers for India in NZ
|SR Tendulkar||1990-2009||11 (18)||842||160||49.52||5 / 2|
|R Dravid||1998-2009||7 (14)||766||190||63.83||5 / 2|
|M Azharuddin||1990-1999||6 (8)||521||192||74.42||1 / 2|
|G Gambhir||2009-2009||3 (6)||445||167||89.00||1 / 2|
|SM Gavaskar||1976-1981||6 (10)||392||116||43.55||2 / 1|
|AL Wadekar||1968-1968||4 (8)||328||143||46.85||2 / 1|
|VVS Laxman||2002-2009||5 (9)||322||124*||40.25||2 / 1|
|FM Engineer||1968-1968||4 (8)||321||63||40.12||2 / 0|
|RF Surti||1968-1968||4 (8)||321||99||45.85||2 / 0|
|DB Vengsarkar||1976-1990||8 (13)||308||61||25.66||2 / 0|
As far as a particular series is concerned, Gautam Gambhir’s sensational 2008-’09 series is the best by an Indian batsman in New Zealand by some distance. The left-handed opener thwarted New Zealand bowlers constantly in that series, starring in both the drawn game and the famous win that clinched the series for India.
Most runs scored in a series by an Indian in NZ
Interestingly, in the 24 Test matches India have played in New Zealand, a total of 16 centuries have been scored by the visiting batsmen but only ONE of those came in the first out of four innings in a match: by Mohammad Azharuddin in 1998.
Top 10 individual scores by an Indian in NZ
|M Azharuddin||192||2||Auckland||22 Feb 1990|
|R Dravid||190||2||Hamilton||2 Jan 1999|
|G Gambhir||167||3||Wellington||3 Apr 2009|
|SR Tendulkar||160||2||Hamilton||18 Mar 2009|
|AL Wadekar||143||2||Wellington||29 Feb 1968|
|G Gambhir||137||3||Napier||26 Mar 2009|
|VVS Laxman||124*||3||Napier||26 Mar 2009|
|S Amarnath||124||2||Auckland||24 Jan 1976|
|AM Rahane||118||2||Wellington||14 Feb 2014|
|SM Gavaskar||116||2||Auckland||24 Jan 1976|
Here’s a stat for the the current bowling line-up to emulate: to this date, the inimitable EAS Prasanna (11/140) remains the only Indian bowler to pick up a 10-wicket match-haul in a Test in New Zealand. Zaheer Khan has the record for the most 5-fors by an Indian bowler (four) with Prasanna (three) and Ishant Sharma (two) the only others to bag five in an innings on more than one occasion.
Leading wicket-scorers for India in NZ
|Player||Span||Mat (Inns)||Wkts||BBI||Ave||SR||5-WI / 10-WM|
|EAS Prasanna||1968-1976||7 (12)||35||8/76||19.25||50.1||3 / 1|
|Z Khan||2002-2014||7 (13)||33||5/29||28.27||50.3||4|
|I Sharma||2009-2014||5 (9)||23||6/51||30.91||52.2||2|
|H Singh||1998-2009||6 (11)||21||6/63||24.19||61.0||1|
|BS Bedi||1968-1976||6 (10)||20||6/127||24.65||76.8||1|
|N Kapil Dev||1981-1994||7 (11)||15||4/34||42.13||93.5||0|
|RJ Shastri||1981-1981||3 (5)||15||5/125||18.46||58.8||1|
|J Srinath||1994-1999||3 (6)||15||5/95||34.66||71.5||1|
|RG Nadkarni||1968-1968||4 (8)||14||6/43||17.92||79.5||1|
|BS Chandrasekhar||1976-1976||3 (4)||11||6/94||26.72||65.3||1|
|A Kumble||1994-1999||3 (6)||11||4/83||40.27||104.4||0|
Prasanna’s star turn, with Bishen Singh Bedi playing the support role, was arguably the main reason for India’s historic series triumph in 1968 and it is no surprise to see the two legends on top of the charts for best series performances. Ishant, too, had a memorable outing albeit in a losing cause last time around.
Most wickets in a series by an Indian in NZ
Best bowling figures in an innings
|EAS Prasanna||23.0*-5-76-8||2.47||3||Auckland||24 Jan 1976|
|RG Nadkarni||30.0-12-43-6||1.43||3||Wellington||29 Feb 1968|
|I Sharma||17.0-3-51-6||3.00||1||Wellington||14 Feb 2014|
|Harbhajan Singh||28.0-2-63-6||2.25||3||Hamilton||18 Mar 2009|
|EAS Prasanna||40.0-11-94-6||2.35||3||Dunedin||15 Feb 1968|
|BS Chandrasekhar||30.0*-6-94-6||2.35||1||Auckland||24 Jan 1976|
|BS Bedi||47.3-11-127-6||2.67||1||Christchurch||22 Feb 1968|
|I Sharma||33.4-4-134-6||3.98||1||Auckland||6 Feb 2014|
Among the current squad, Ishant Sharma is the only player to have toured New Zealand more than once for a Test series (2009 and 2014). He was one of India’s better performers during the previous series which the visitors lost 1-0 in 2014. He picked up 15 wickets (including two five-fors) with a best of 6/51 at an average of 25.13 and strike rate of 42.4. Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane have a century each to their name in New Zealand as well but for the most part, the current squad will start the two-match series with a clean slate, including the likes of senior players Ashwin Ravichandran and Wriddhiman Saha.
India's current squad: record in NZ
|Player||Matches played||Batting record||Bowling record|
|Virat Kohli||2||Inns: 4, Runs: 215, Avg: 71.33 (100s/50s: 1/1)||N/A|
|Cheteshwar Pujara||2||Inns: 4, Runs: 60, Avg: 15.00 (100s/50s: 0/0)||N/A|
|Ajinkya Rahane||2||Inns: 3, Runs: 162, Avg: 54.00 (100s/50s: 1/0)||N/A|
|Ravindra Jadeja||2||Inns: 3, Runs: 82, Avg: 41.00 (100s/50s: 0/0)||Inns: 3, Wkts: 3, Avg: 85.66 (5-fors: 0)|
|Ishant Sharma||5||Inns: 6, Runs: 54, Avg: 9.00 (100s/50s: 0/0)||Inns: 9, Wkts: 23, Avg: 30.91 (5-fors: 2)|
|Mohammed Shami||2||Inns: 3, Runs: 2, Avg: 2.00 (100s/50s: 0/0)||Inns: 4, Wkts: 10, Avg: 35.10 (4-fors: 1)|
On Wednesday, Kohli backed rookie opening batsmen Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw to shine at Wellington’s Basin Reserve, where India have not won a Test since 1968. And he had an interesting explanation for that.
“These guys have no baggage, they’re not desperate in any way to perform here,” he said. “They play with a fearlessness that can motivate the whole team and give us the kind of starts we want.”
Indeed, as noted above, most of this current Indian squad will hardly have any baggage having not played Test cricket in New Zealand before (on the flip side: lack of experience.)
Kohli expected the notorious Wellington wind to play a role in the match, saying it had to be carefully considered when weighing up bowling options.
“Wind in this stadium more than any other in the world plays a massive, massive role,” he said.
And for starters, Kohli and India would be desperate for a good start from the openers.
Openers in SENA under Virat Kohli's captaincy
|MA Agarwal, GH Vihari||2||68||40||34.00||0|
|S Dhawan, KL Rahul||6||168||60||28.00||2|
|S Dhawan, M Vijay||6||161||50||26.83||1|
|PA Patel, M Vijay||1||17||17||17.00||0|
|KL Rahul, M Vijay||11||166||63||15.09||1|
|MA Agarwal, KL Rahul||1||10||10||10.00||0|