3 Test series, 360 points up for grabs, all taken. Half the job is done, plenty more to go. That’s been India’s story so far in the World Test Championship (WTC). The only team yet to lose a single Test in the inaugural WTC cycle has pretty much all but sealed their place in next year’s Lord’s final with 3 more series left to be played. But having only faced the bottom-3 teams in the WTC table, you’d think that the upcoming 2-Test series in New Zealand should be when the real test begins for Virat Kohli’s India.
Since the WTC came into action last year, India have whitewashed West Indies 2-0 (away), South Africa 3-0 and Bangladesh 2-0 (both at home), launching themselves to the top of the WTC points table. With a total of 6 Test series scheduled for each team in the current WTC cycle, India will next play New Zealand, Australia (both away) and England (home) hoping to maintain their top position in order to secure an automatic berth in the final.
On one hand, New Zealand only have West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh below them on the WTC points table which doesn’t make their case any stronger but they have only played 5 matches so far with the 3-0 whitewash in Australia pulling them down the pecking order. On the other, the Kane Williamson-led side are currently the No.4 ranked Test team in the world and have the chance to go No.2 if they beat India 2-0. Though India are far ahead in the WTC race, New Zealand would certainly be looking to pocket a full 120 points to stake their own claim for the 2021 Lord’s fixture. One thing is for sure, it won’t be easy going for either team.
India hammered New Zealand 3-0 in the last Test series played between the sides in 2016 (Reuters)
Taking nothing away from the caliber of oppositions India have faced in the past 6 months or so, the fact that they have managed to win each of the 7 Tests they played by an innings or more than 200 runs, is ample proof that Virat Kohli’s team have steamrolled each opponent till now in the WTC. But New Zealand should prove worthy challengers in the next series if the Kiwis can bury the disappointment of their recent Trans-Tasman rivalry.
The preceding 3-0 win in the ODI series vs India should also give the Kiwis a lot of confidence going into the red-ball leg of the series. After being humbled 5-0 in the T20Is, New Zealand did really well to bounce back with 3 successive victories to force India into a spot of bother just before the Test series.
Ross Taylor’s white-ball form should instill new confidence in the New Zealand side which has also received a shot in the arm with the inclusion of pacers Trent Boult and Neil Wagner into the squad.
Their opponents India will be hoping to learn from their mistakes in the first innings of the warm-up match vs NZ-XI where 8 of their batsmen couldn’t touch double digits. If the curators decide to throw a spicy pitch in Wellington with a lot of bounce on offer, Wagner, Boult and others could certainly make life difficult for the famed Indian batting.
Virat Kohli would also be wary of Williamson’s captaincy record at home. In 17 Tests across 8 series played under Williamson’s captaincy since he took over from Brendon McCullum, New Zealand have lost just a solitary match – an 8-wicket loss to South Africa at Wellington in 2017. While New Zealand lost that series 1-0, they have managed to win the remaining 7 with their 1-0 win vs England at home in December 2019 being the latest triumph.
India’s last Test tour to New Zealand was highlighted by Brendon McCullum’s historic triple which denied the visitors a win (Reuters)
If New Zealand can bank on their awesome home record under Williamson, they would also draw inspiration from India’s recent failures in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia) countries. Barring a below-strength Australia who were beaten 2-1 by India in 2018/19, the Asian giants have now lost successive series in SENA countries including 22 Tests across 9 tours. At times India have been competitive but even then couldn’t win more than 1 Test on a single tour ultimately conceding the series to the hosts.
Thus the upcoming series will have plenty on stake for both the teams. While the hosts would like to get back to winning ways after the Australian drubbing, India will be eyeing their 3rd Test series win in the country (after 1968, 2009). Only MAK Pataudi and MS Dhoni have ever won a Test series in New Zealand as India captains. For Kohli, this is another chance to create history and prove that what started in Australia is now a movement and not just an aberration.
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