India’s tour of New Zealand has been a tale of all or nothing so far. While the visitors reigned supreme in the 5-match T20I series, the Kiwis scripted a memorable turnaround to whitewash India in the ODIs. The excitement of the riveting competition now boils down to the 2-match Test series, beginning in Wellington on 21 February.
The Virat Kohli-led India, the current leaders of the World Championship, come as a daunting side to challenge while New Zealand are no pushovers either. Led by Kane Williamson, the BlackCaps are a spirited unit and are a tough side beat on their home turf. Additionally, the return of a few key players such as Trent Boult must have bolstered the team’s chances in the series.
India, therefore, will be keen on getting their combination right to kick start the series on a winning note. Here’s the predicted playing XI that Virat Kohli might choose to field for the first Test against New Zealand.
India’s predicted playing XI for the 1st Test against New Zealand”
Openers: Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal
India’s mainstream openers in the squad are most likely to walk straight into the playing XI for the first Test. While Prithvi Shaw looked to find rhythm in the second innings of the practice match against New Zealand XI, Mayank Agarwal will be hoping to continue his dream run in the whites for India.
Mayank has had a bit of tough time in New Zealand but he overcame the frailties with a sound 81 in the second innings of the practice game. Shaw also was in good touch in the warm-ups and he will most likely pip Shubman Gill even as the latter has shown a lot of promise scoring double hundred for India A in the country.
Middle Order: Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari
The subsequent three slots in the line-up are rooted and form the meat of India’s batting. The ever-reliable Cheteshwar Pujara will take guard at the key position of number 3, while Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane will bat at positions 4 and 5 respectively. The trio will once again be expected to score the bulk of the runs and take the responsibility of weathering down the Kiwi quicks, especially in the absence of Rohit Sharma.
Hanuma Vihari is likely to get a nod ahead of Ravi Ashwin as India might want to play an extra batsman in alien conditions. Also, the right-handed batsman from Andhra impressed with a hundred in the practice-game, forming a strong case for himself to make it to the playing XI.
Wicket-keeper: Wriddhiman Saha
This could be turn out to be a selection conundrum for the team management. On one hand, there is Wriddhiman Saha who is a genuine keeper and has scored runs in tough conditions while on the other, there is Rishabh Pant who has been in New Zealand since January 2020 and must have got hold of the conditions. The southpaw also impressed with a decent half-century in the practice game. However, for the series opener, the visitors are likely to opt for Saha’s experience.
All-Rounder: Ravindra Jadeja
The significant progress in the batting capabilities of Ravindra Jadeja has proved to be a huge bonus for Team India in Test cricket. Churning out runs consistently at the highest level, the southpaw has turned into a bankable batsman lower down the order. Adding merit are his disciplined spin bowling and incredible prowess in the field, making him a suitable option at number 8.
Bowlers: Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah
The Indian pace battery will be led by Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. The duo has been in scintillating form with the red cherry of late and will be looking to deliver the goods against the Kiwis as well. The third pacer’s slot seemed up for grabs for either Umesh Yadav or Navdeep Saini but then Ishant Sharma recovered well from his ankle injury to catch the flight for New Zealand just in time.
The lanky pacer is set to feature in the first Test and having played on NZ pitches twice before, brings a lot of experience to the side. The 96-Test veteran’s performance will more or less decide India’s fate in the series.
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