After a 10-wicket drubbing in Wellington that witnessed India, the No.1 ranked Test side being dominated on all front, Virat Kohli-led visitors would be raring to bounce back strong against New Zealand and subsequently, level the series in the second Test. However, the dashing Indian captain would have to be mindful of a few grey areas that can hinder his team's chances in Christchurch.
1) Win toss, bat second: It has been overly evident that while you may opt to bat first on winning toss elsewhere, in New Zealand you put your opponents to bat first on winning toss and reap the rewards with the pacers on the green top for the first two days and then milk the runs as batting conditions improve over the next three days.
Skipper Kohli had felt its 'big' impact in the first Test where Kane Williamson had maintained the ritual before the visitors lost their first Test in the ongoing World Championship. Hence, it will be very important for India to win the toss as that will put the visitors 40 per cent ahead in the game. But winning the toss is purely not in one's hand.
2) Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal need to provide India a good start: Since 2018, Kohli-led India have struggled to get a good start away from home. Barring Mayank's 77 and 76 in the first innings of the third and fourth Test in Australia in 2018, openers have failed to get off to a promising start. The second innings hold poorer results to show for India, with KL Rahul's 149 (at the Oval in 2018) being the only exception. The trend continued in Wellington in the first Test, leaving the middle-order exposed to the new ball.
However, Mayank did apply himself against the bounce and swing from the New Zealand pace attack in both the innings and provided hope to the Indian team in building a solid momentum both times. Even Kohli was left impressed with his technique. Prithvi was although disappointing throughout the two innings (16 and 14), but Kohli, not reading much into his dismissals, expects the youngster to learn from those dismissals and bounce back strong.
3) The experienced needs to fire: Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane together added 118 runs on the board across the two innings, with the latter being the only exception. Rahane made an impactful 46 from 138 deliveries to dent New Zealand's hope of a sixth wicket on day 1 of the opener. And, he remained the key batsman in the second innings as well with his patient 75-ball 29. Pujara and Kohli were, however, undone by the swing and bounce off the track. While Kyle Jamieson had cleverly set up the Indian skipper with a few short balls to push him inside the crease before dishing out that out swinging length ball to find the outside edge, the debutant got rid of Pujara with a brute of a bouncer. In the second innings, Kohli was dismissed with an impressive bouncer from Boult, who then got rid of Pujara with a fuller delivery outside off that sneaked in to knock off the stumps.
Pujara and Kohli both need to stand stall after a bitter Wellington experince and gear up strong against the returning Neil Wagner's short-ball tactic in Christchurch.
4) Wagner returns: India were outplayed by Boult and Southee in the first Test who together took 14 wickets in Wellington. And adding to India's woes, Wagner is all set to return for the second Test after missing out on the first owing to paternal leave. Hence, the visitors will look to embrace himself for that variety of delivery of which Wagner is considered to be arguably the world’s pre-eminent exponent. Since 2016, he has taken 75 wickets through bouncers, which is 53 per cent of his total wickets in the period. And overall, 63 per cent of his deliveries in a Test matches are of bouncer length and it resulted in 63 per cent of his wickets. Moreover, in his recent Test match against Australia in Perth, he bowled 193 short balls, 63 per cent of his deliveries - no player has bowled as many short balls as Wagner has in a Test match in Australia since 2006.
Ducking or leaving won't be the sole technique to face this bowler. India will have to come up with a solution to counter the short balls in presence of a forward and backward short leg along with a deep fine leg and deep square leg.
5) Bumrah and Shami to bore pressure if Ishant is not fit: India suffered a huge blow on Friday morning with a probability of Ishant Sharma being ruled out of the second Test owing to the recurrence of his ankle injury. This means, India's new-ball pair of Bumrah and Shami will have to make the kind of impact that their New Zealand counterparts had made in Wellington. The pair, heading into Hagley Oval, should carefully study Trent Boult and Tim Southee and how they extracted swing off the track even when the Indians failed to do so.
If Ishant, who had taken his 11th five-wicket haul in Wellington, misses out, Umesh Yadav is likely to be added to the lineup and this could add a class to the pace lineup. In the opener, India had ‘hit the deck’ kind of pacers who relied more on seam than on swing, but Umesh is the kind of bowler who will bring in that swing factor into the attack, one that can pose as a challenge to the New Zealand batters. Moreover, he is good against tail-enders as well.
6) Ashwin or Jadeja: Ashwin played a good role in the first innings with figures of 29-1-99-3, and still stands a good chance to be included for the second Test given the presence of left-handers in the New Zealand batting line-up. But his poor returns with the bat will pose a huge question. In fact, when he came to bat for the second innings in Wellington, his batting average was 17.78 since 2017, as against 34.92 until then. Moreover, he has been dismissed 20 times before facing 30 balls since 2017 and lasted as long as 50 deliveries only seven times. In the same period, Jadeja averages 49.80 in 31 innings and have been unbeaten 11 times.
Two other factors that do stand in Jadeja's favour is that with Ishant set to miss out, India will not have a holding bowler and Jadeja can just fulfill that role. And, Hagley Oval track serves less for the spinners, leaving them almost ineffective.
7) India need to win a session: Look at all of the nine and half sessions that were played in Wellington. India dominated none. And everytime there was an opportunity to stamp domination, New Zealand found a way to sneak back and consolidate the pressure. India need to win a session starting day 1, most imprtantly the first. Such can consequently serve as a morale booster for the team.