Ajinkya Rahane's second-string Indian team ready to take on New Zealand

Wednesday, 24 November 2021 - 23:09

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Ajinkya Rahane's second-string Indian team aim to size up a gritty New Zealand in first Test starting Thursday.

Rahane, with his career on line, gets to lead India may be one last time while 100-Test veteran Ishant Sharma will be praying that young turk Mohammed Siraj doesn't nudge him out.

"Shreyas Iyer will be making his debut but I can't reveal anything about combination," skipper Rahane confirmed ahead of the match.

It is indeed a rarity to find an Indian Test team that is without its hit opening pair of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul. Also missing from line-up is skipper Virat Kohli and a genuine match-winning keeper-batter Rishabh Pant.

But this also gives head coach Rahul Dravid a chance to check out what his back-up bench strength is before the away tour of South Africa which starts in less than a month's time.

In the batting line-up for the first Test, only Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal have played more than 10 Tests. If Agarwal does well, that will keep KL Rahul on his toes and a good show from Shubman Gill will keep the team management interested in slotting him in the middle-order when the two regular openers come back.

In any sport, leader of the side is considered to have a secured slot in the side but in this Indian team, the skipper will be batting to save his career after an average of 19 in 11 Test matches in the current season.

Two more failures in two home games could effectively mean end of the road for Rahane. Even Dravid will also find it difficult to justify the Mumbaikar's inclusion in the Johannesburg-bound flight next month.

How Rahane strikes a balance in this Test between being a ruthless captain and also the batter his team expects him to be will decide in which direction his career goes from here.

If he plays the game of survival against a Tim Southee or bumper-happy Neil Wagner, it might bring about downfall but as Pujara said, "being a bit fearless" will relieve him a bit from the gigantic pressure that's on his shoulders to save his career.

Similarly, for Ishant, the senior-most player in the current set-up with 100 plus games and 300 plus wickets, the situation is getting bleak by the day. He didn't look in good rhythm during the net session and if Siraj is dropped from the eleven, the lanky pacer will once again need to prove that team management's decision isn't a travesty.

Umesh Yadav however remains the first-choice new ball bowler. Shreyas, who has a had a decent red ball record but has not played a long format game since 2019, will have his task cut-out.

Dravid made him negotiate short ball throw-downs from left-arm specialist Nuwan in order to simulate Neil Wagner's round the wicket tactic.

But one man, itching to go out there and reaffirm his status as world's number one spinner will be Ravichandran Ashwin, who had been licking his wounds for the past few months after a royal snub by regular captain Kohli during the last series.

His battle with a technician-par-excellence Williamson will be a treat for lovers of Test cricket but the seasoned players like Ross Taylor, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls will have their task cut-out against Ashwin and Jadeja.

For Black Caps, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner will be the two pacers with left-arm spin duo of Ajaz Patel and Mitchell Santner along with off-spinner William Somerville likely to complete the attack.

Teams India (from): Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Jayant Yadav, Srikar Bharat (2nd wk) and Prasidh Krishna.

New Zealand (from): Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Latham (wk), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Tom Blundell (wk), Will Young, Glenn Phillips (wk), Daryl Mitchell, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Kyle Jamieson, William Sommerville, Ajaz Patel, Mitchell Santner and Rachin Ravindra.

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Match Starts at 9:30 am.


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