The last time I came up with one of these predictions, it fell flat on my face. Humble pie is what I’ve been eating for the past month and with the Tests about to begin, I figured this would be the perfect time to do away with it. So, what is really going to unfold in the first Test in Wellington?
It’s been 2,197 days since India last played a Test match in New Zealand. If you look at it, it’s a gentleman's agreement between the two teams: New Zealand know India pose the biggest threat to their unbeaten run at home and similarly, India know that New Zealand is one place where any traveling team can get disassembled and demolished; thus by not playing, both teams kind of remained undented. They also did not play because the BCCI did not have faith in the people of India waking up at 3.30 AM to watch their team play a Test match.
But now both teams have been stripped off their comfy blankets and the introduction of the World Test Championship means that they have no option but to square off in New Zealand. The BCCI, by the looks of it, still do not have faith in the cricket-crazy Indian people to wake up at 3.30 AM, a reason as to why the matches have been pushed instead to 4.00 AM. I guess, finally, we can say, “It’s happening”. We know it’s happening, but what will actually happen?
What will we be expecting
A green Wellington wicket: What is the best thing about Test cricket in New Zealand? The wickets. The goddamn spicier-than-Andhra-thali wickets, where the ball dominates the bat, makes it a riveting watch,. The last time the two teams squared off at this venue in a Test, India reduced New Zealand to 51/4 in the first session and they did so with a 36-year-old Zaheer Khan as their talisman. I guess we’re already fantasizing about Bumrah potentially being unleashed in these conditions early in the morning, aren’t we?
Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal to set the stage on fire: These two did open in the ODIs and it did not yield the greatest of results, but I guess we all can unanimously agree that they’re completely different beasts in Test cricket. Mayank, especially. I mean, this is a man who averages close to 70 and has scored two double-centuries in just 9 Tests. Oh and are we also just going to ignore the fact that Shaw averages 118.50 in Test cricket? This is the one partnership that we’ve been longing to see for a long, long time, isn’t it? It looks like the stars have aligned, finally.
Navdeep Saini to have his Bumrah moment: The last time a rookie Indian pacer was handed his debut in the first match of a clutch series away from home, it turned out to be one of the biggest masterstrokes in Indian cricket history. It was a young Jasprit Bumrah - in a never-seen-before avatar - making the South Africans dance to his tune. And frankly, we’re all expecting to re-live the same moment over again in the form of Navdeep Saini, aren’t we? But unlike Bumrah, here, we know for a fact that red-ball cricket is Saini’s best format; it’s something that’s been attested by everyone who has played with him, too. Given the bounce on offer in New Zealand wickets, boy you can bet that he’ll rattle the Kiwis with some hostile pace bowling.
An intriguing Kohli-Boult battle:Virat Kohli vs James Anderson 2.0 in 2018 was one of the greatest modern-day battles witnessed in cricket but, should both players be at their best, you get the feeling that the Kohli-Boult face-off could even top that. We all remember the moment when Boult’s booming inswinger thudded into Kohli’s pads in the World Cup semi-final, don’t we? If he could do that with the white cherry, you could only imagine what he’s got up his sleeve this time around with the red cherry in his hand. And mind you, Boult’s already started his mind games and he’s not even someone who talks a lot. “That’s personally why I play the game, to get guys like that (Kohli) out,” is what he’s said ahead of the first Test. He sure must be pretty damn confident heading into the match and that is GREAT news for us, the fans.
A glimpse of Rishabh Pant: Despite Saha being a superman behind the wickets, it felt a bit cold-blooded on the management’s part to completely leave Pant hanging in the home season in Tests. But if the warm-up game against New Zealand XI is anything to go by - where Pant kept and batted for more overs than Saha - then it looks like our prodigal boy is all set to return to Tests. And make no mistake, he deserves it. He is, after all, the only Indian keeper to score centuries in Australia and England and in his short career, thus far, he’s barely put a foot wrong whilst donning the whites. You’d also imagine that his batting alone would warrant a place in the XI.
What will actually happen
Wellington will emulate Wankhede: Yes, the pitch will still be green, but the green tinge will be as fake as the tan that was seen on Donald Trump’s face in a photoshopped pic that went viral a few days ago. A lot has changed in the world of cricket since India last played a Test in New Zealand, but none so more than the nature of the pitches in the country; they’ve become despicably flat. Perhaps we could see the ball jagging for an hour or so, but that’s about it. Once the early storm is weathered, expect the wicket to be as lifeless a Sunday morning in the streets of Delhi in the month of December.
Kyle Jamieson will be all over the Indian openers: If for India, the stars aligning refers to Agarwal and Shaw finally getting to open the batting together, then I suppose in New Zealand’s case, it’d be the two-foot monster Jamieson making his debut against a team - and particularly two batsmen - who he bullied in ODIs. A fairytale cannot go on forever, and I’m afraid that the Basin Reserve would be the place where both Mayank and Shaw’s bubble will finally burst in Test cricket. In the ODIs, the duo, against Jamieson, were as clueless as an eight-year-old me trying to understand the concept of Sudoku and very rarely do we see batsmen turn fortunes around versus a bowler in such a short span of time. Jamieson is going to win by a TKO.
Saini will have his Siraj moment: Remember when we were all excited for Mohammad Siraj to make his Test debut versus the Windies and the management pulled a prank on us by instead going for Thakur? Yeah, expect the same come Friday. It is with a heavy heart that I’ll have to inform you that Saini will NOT play the first Test and might not even feature in the whole series. Do y’all think Kohli was joking when he was talking about Ishant looking like his old self at the nets? Oh, come on. The clue is right in front of your eyes, folks. Ishant did not make a miraculous recovery and board the flight to New Zealand just to warm the bench. I’m afraid Saini will have to wait.
Kohli-Boult will be a no-contest: Forget about the Kohli-Anderson battle, I’d be surprised if this one even matches the Kohli-Starc face-off that we saw in Australia last year (clue: it wasn’t a battle by any means). For starters, Boult is recovering from an injury and to add to that, by the time Kohli walks in, the ball will be really, really old. I’d be astonished if Boult even manages to get one back into Kohli in the first place, let alone trouble him. The left-armer is coming into this match-up having picked just two wickets in his last four innings and, should my estimation be right, Kohli is going to punch him to the extent that it would need external intervention to stop the contest. Don’t get your hopes up, folks!
Wriddhiman Saha will keep wickets: After all the mixed signals the management has given Pant, do you really still think that he will play the first Test just because of an extended run in the warm-up games? Oh, come on. This is going to be yet another ‘Haha, gotcha’ moment. Saha is no Pant. What I mean by that statement is, he is not going to get benched after the captain and the coach showering praises on him. I know we all would to see Pant make a comeback and rip the leather out of the dukes ball on these flat wickets, but that is not going to happen on Friday. In fact, if you ask me, we are a long, long way away from that happening. Keep your sympathy tweets for Pant and the ‘superman’ ones for Saha ready, for you’re going to need it in a couple of days time.
The limited-overs leg of this series sure did catch us all by surprise - with its sheer unpredictability and at times its stupidity - but expect the Tests, especially the first one, to be a lot more organized and professional. Sanity should be restored but it would be pretty naive to be expecting a nail-biter or a thriller; expect a run-fest with a lot of boring passages of play. In fact, I would even go on and state that a result would be a stretch and even if we get one, it would only be due to some inept cricket from the losing team.
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