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Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal Give Strong Start to India in Mumbai

Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal Give Strong Start to India in Mumbai

India will be without the services of vice captain Ajinkya Rahane, pacer Ishant Sharma and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja. All three had injured themselves on the final day of the first Test in Kanpur. Unfortunately, they haven’t recovered on time. The Wankhede Test will have a delayed start due to continuous rain for the last two days. The toss has been delayed and there will be a second inspection at 10.30 AM IST.

The toss has officially been delayed, due to wet patches on the outfield and the pitch. The run-up regions are dangerously damp and there’s an official inspection at 9:30AM IST. The second Test against New Zealand begins Friday at the Wankhede Stadium and skipper Virat Kohli runs into multiple challenges on his return to international cricket after a brief break to recover from fatigue.

Unexpected inclement weather in Mumbai is one of the major ones. As I write this, a weak sun has emerged from behind dark clouds that have hung over the city since Tuesday. The pitter-patter of incessant rain, unusual at this time of the year and a grim reminder that climate change is one of the perilous issues that threaten the planet, has stopped, but the rain-filled grey sky looks foreboding.

The monsoon-like weather may last another or a little longer according to the Met department, which has thrown the team management into turmoil about finalizing the playing XI, as Kohli admitted. The Wankhede pitch had a thickish coat of grass a few days back. That has been shaved off to stymie the threat from New Zealand’s pace bowlers. But if conditions remain overcast, India face a double whammy.

IND vs NZ FULL COVERAGE | IND vs NZ SCHEDULE | IND vs NZ RESULTS

If Mumbai’s weather suggests benefit for swing and seam, a spinner would have to be dropped to accommodate another pace bowler. Since both Bumrah and Shami are being rested, this immediately relieves a lot of pressure on the New Zealand batsmen: One spinner less to cope with, and India’s best fast bowlers absence from the attack.

On the other hand, the threat to India’s batsmen gets enhanced. Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson took 14 of the 17 Indian wickets to fall on a slow track at Kanpur in a splendid display of swing and seam bowling. Add Neil Wagner, who has been a regular wicket-taker for the past few years, in place of a spinner and the New Zealand attack becomes formidable.

How the bowling attack should be constituted compounds the problems Kohli was already facing about which batsmen to include in the playing XI. His return means one batsman has to sit out, but who would that be, has been the subject of endless speculation and debate — as much in the team management as among fans and aficionados.

Veterans Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have been under scrutiny because of a protracted lean trot. Will one or both of them make way for younger players has been the most-asked question in the past week, especially with debutant Shreyas Iyer’s superb batting at Kanpur where he scored a century followed by a half-century.

The answer to this may well be `neither. In the absence of Rohit Sharma and K L Rahul, the team misses not just two in-form batsmen, but also their experience of playing at the highest level. Dispensing with Pujara and Rahane would expose a plethora of batsmen without sufficient experience, which could work to New Zealand’s advantage.

Dropping an opener — Mayank Agarwal most likely in the present scenario – and opening with Wriddhiman Saha or KS Bharat allows Pujara and Rahane to retain their places and, at least on paper, gives the middle order heft. Conceivably Pujara, who has opened a few times in the past, can also be pushed up the order. But there’s no doubt that Pujara and Rahane will be under enormous pressure if they play: not just for this Test, but also for selection to the forthcoming tour of South Africa.

If finalizing the batting and bowling line-ups is vexing, the onus for Kohli gets even bigger as batsman and captain. His run-making form over the past couple of years has been lukewarm. Big scores, which came in a torrent prior to 2019, have become more difficult to get. In this situation, with Rohit and Rahul missing, Kohli’s batting will be crucial and have a direct bearing on the outcome of the match.

The Kiwis survived the first Test by a whisker, but that in itself was a warning to Kohli about the need to perk his team up to win the series. Playing at home, India have a terrific record. The last series defeat was in 2012-13 to England led by Alastair Cook. For the most, visiting teams have suffered massively, often being whitewashed, as happened with New Zealand in 2016.

By staving off almost certain defeat at Kanpur, Kane Williamson’s gritty side they won’t be rolled over easily. After a highly productive run which saw them get into the final of the World Test Championship final last season, and then beat India for the title, New Zealand look a team transformed: resilient, ambitious, fiercely determined to protect, if not enhance their status in red-ball cricket.

Much of the past week has been consumed by the IPL retentions drama, obscuring the importance of this two-Test series, which is part of the next cycle of the World Test Championship for both teams. India failed to score maximum points in the first as expected. If the second opportunity is squandered too, it could come to bite later when the race for finding a place in the final hots up.

Kohli’s well-deserved rest period is over. The heat is on again!

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