Neil Wagner returns as New Zealand look to assert home dominance

New Zealand
Neil Wagner in his bowling action © Getty Images

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In Wellington, India came face to face with how subtle New Zealand’s home advantage is. Theirs is not the kind of dominance that comes from knowing no other place can produce two spinners of the quality you have. Or batsmen who demoralise opponents before their big untiring fast bowlers bash out every assistance from their pitches.

New Zealand do things differently. They take down attacks that look better than theirs on paper. Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner might be a somewhat incomplete trio in other conditions, but in New Zealand, they kill you with a thousand paper cuts. Their knowledge of conditions – when it will swing and how to swing it, when to attack and when to bowl dry – and exploitation of winds and angles is second to none. Teams such as India do themselves no favour by playing just two Tests in New Zealand in five years, giving themselves no shot at familiarity.

After the near three-day defeat in Wellington, India go to Christchurch looking for two quick fixes: how to swing the ball for longer periods, like New Zealand did, and how to bat with more freedom against New Zealand. The first one is slightly tricky because of the nature of the bowlers involved in the contest. Southee and Boult are out-and-out swing bowlers, and thus have the ideal wrist positions and seam at the point of release for swing on most occasions. Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah are more seam bowlers; Shami in particular bowls with a beautiful upright seam.

Twenty-seven overs, 40 runs, one wicket. That is Colin de Grandhomme‘s returns from Wellington. That is what Virat Kohli doesn’t want a repeat of. Good as New Zealand’s bowlers are, they aren’t always threatening the wickets like, say, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja do at home. Or that’s what the thinking within the India camp is. How much of a risk it is to try to be more proactive, and what the rewards might be, will be seen in Christchurch.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

New Zealand WLLLD

India LWWWW

In the spotlight

The coin toss. Just consider how much the chances of a side losing the match reduce the moment it wins the toss. The last time New Zealand lost a home Test despite winning the toss was way back in 2009. The last time Kohli lost a match after winning the toss was… never. The credit belongs to both the sides for playing excellent cricket after winning the toss, but the one losing the toss will be fighting massive odds.

Neil Wagner is now a dad, and is back to test batsmen with his own grammar of Test-match bowling. There were times when New Zealand missed him in Wellington, in the second innings especially, but will Wagner feel the pressure of having to bowl the kind of ball Kyle Jamieson did to Cheteshwar Pujara to take his maiden Test wicket? Not if both of them are playing.

India would love for the Christchurch Test to contain a cathartic Virat Kohli innings © Getty Images

Virat Kohli has gone 20 international innings without a century. While it is never smart to pool together formats when judging how a player has been doing, a small worry for India will be that he felt the need to play too many shots at the start of both his innings. This is not how he batted in Australia, which was when he seemed at most peace with his game and his captaincy.

Team news

Wagner will definitely be back, but whom does he replace? If the pitch calls for a spinner, the sensational debutant from last week, Jamieson, will have to sit out. However, if New Zealand feel there might not be much for a spinner to do, both could play. Only once in five Tests at Hagley Oval have New Zealand gone in without a specialist spinner, losing that Test to Australia. After having missed India’s second innings with a shoulder injury, Tom Blundell is fine to open again in Christchurch.

New Zealand 1 Tom Latham, 2 Tom Blundell, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Kyle Jamieson/Ajaz Patel, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Trent Boult

Ishant Sharma looks very likely to be out on the sidelines for this one after a recurrence of the ankle injury he had picked up during the Ranji Trophy in January. If he doesn’t make it, Umesh Yadav will be the likely replacement.

India are no longer the side that made spot judgments and impatient changes. The only question might be whether India want to strengthen their lower-order batting with Jadeja ahead of Ashwin. India coach Ravi Shastri’s assessment of Ashwin might make Jadeja a slight favourite. “He is a world-class bowler,” Shastri said of Ashwin. “There is absolutely no doubt about it, but we have to make sure we pick the right side for the right conditions, and see what a player can bring to the table. I think he has bowled well over the years. If anything, he will be disappointed with the way he has batted. He’ll want to improve on his batting in time to come.”

India 1 Mayank Agarwal, 2 Prithvi Shaw, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt.), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Hanuma Vihari, 7 Rishabh Pant (wk), 8 R Ashwin/ Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Ishant Sharma/ Umesh Yadav, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

Pitch and conditions

The Hagley Oval pitch looks green with approximately 12mm grass, which is less in length than what the Basin in Wellington had. It is expected to be quicker than Wellington, and perhaps flatten out more, maybe after day two. There should not be more than the odd interruption from the weather.

Stats and trivia

  • Only Broad-Anderson and Wasim-Waqar are more prolific new-ball combines than Southee-Boult, who have taken 426 wickets at 26.51 in innings that they have shared the new ball. They have left behind Walsh-Ambrose, McGrath-Gillespie and Donald-Pollock.
  • Sharma, if he plays, is set to become the slowest man to 300 Test wickets, but since the start of 2018, only Jason Holder (among those who have taken 50 wickets at least over the period) has a better average and strike rate than his 71 wickets at 19.14 and 41.7.
  • New Zealand have lost only two home Tests when both Southee and Boult have played, both in 2015-16 to Australia. That is close to the Ashwin-Jadeja domination in India; they have lost just one Test when playing alongside each other, again to Australia.

Quotes

“They are the No. 1 side for a reason, and that is because they can adapt to any conditions. We are definitely expecting them to adapt pretty quickly, and be positive coming into this Test match. Their record speaks for themselves.”
Trent Boult expects India to hit back hard

“We are here not to give any excuses, we were outplayed in the first Test, but I always believe that when you are on a run like we were, a shake-up like that is good. Because it opens your mindset. When you haven’t tasted defeat, you can have a closed mindset. Here you have seen what has happened, which is good, there is opportunities to learn. You know what strategies New Zealand are going to employ, you know what to expect, and you have your plans how you are going to counter them.”

India coach Ravi Shastri believes the Wellington loss was not necessarily a bad thing

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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