New-look Black Caps set to face the toughest test against India


Modified Nov 25, 2021 12:21 AM IST

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Buoyed by their T20 clean sweep, India will look to avenge their defeat in the World Test Championship final when they host a weary New Zealand in the first Test in Kanpur from Thursday. The Indians have been hurting since the eight-wicket hammering by Kane Williamson’s Black Caps at the inaugural World Test Championship final in Southampton in June. But they routed the tourists, runners-up in the T20 World Cup earlier this month, in the recent three-game series, giving them confidence that they can start the new World Championship cycle in winning style.

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However India — under new coach Rahul Dravid and second in the Test rankings behind New Zealand — will be without their in-form opener Rohit Sharma, who has opted out of the two-Test series, and skipper Virat Kohli as well as opener KL Rahul, who was ruled out due to injury. Kohli will return for the second Test in Mumbai in early December while Ajinkya Rahane will lead the side in his absence in Kanpur. New Zealand will be boosted by the return of captain Williamson, who was rested from the T20 games following a grueling schedule that saw his side travel to India just the day after losing the World Cup final in Dubai.

Dravid was quick to offer a reality check.” To be honest, we have to keep our feet on the ground and be a bit realistic about this win,” said Dravid, after India won Sunday’s final game by 73 runs to wrap up the series 3-0. “(It’s) not easy for New Zealand to play a World Cup final and then to turn up three days later and play three games in six days.” Veteran Black Caps batsman Ross Taylor, returning to international action for the first time since the Test final five months ago, admitted retaining the crown would be a tall order. “We’ve gone so many years as underdogs.

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India will be looking forward to keep the T20I momentum

But now coming in as champions, I guess the element of surprise is gone,” Taylor said during a virtual press meet on Sunday. Like for the T20 series, spectators will be allowed for the game in Kanpur — where there has been heavy pollution — but the players will continue to stay in strict bubbles because of the coronavirus. Young Kiwi all-rounder Rachin Ravindra is in all readiness for the Test series against India, stating that his experience of playing in the subcontinent will be crucial to the cause. Rachin has represented New Zealand in the 2016 Under-19 World Cup as well as the 2018 Under-19 Cricket World Cup.

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He has played a total of 6 T20Is for the Kiwis, making his debut against Bangladesh in the series earlier this year in September. He was even selected in the New Zealand squad for the World Test Championship final against India at Lord’s but didn’t make it to the playing XI. The Black Caps’ second World Test Championship campaign begins this afternoon, and with it comes the dawn of a new era behind the stumps. After 75 tests and a record 265 dismissals, BJ Watling hung up his wicketkeeping gloves following the Black Caps’ famous WTC final victory over India in June, with Tom Blundell groomed to take his place.

Blundell has already played 11 tests, seven as an opener, where he averaged 35.3 which included a historic 121 against Australia in the 2019 Boxing Day Test at the MCG. But now, he is ready for a permanent move to No 6 and will start his full-time test wicketkeeping career with the only challenge as difficult as facing Australia away – playing against India, in India. “In the past, I’ve been in and out – it was a great experience batting at the top, but for me, batting at six is a comfortable position,” Blundell said.

“To be in BJ’s pocket for a number of years and watch what he does, I wouldn’t have it any other way. He was a great influence on my development as a keeper, but now it’s my turn, and hopefully, I can do as great a job as he did.”