February 14-18, 2014
Start time 1100 local (2200 GMT, previous day)
Since his debut hundred, Hamish Rutherford has scored just one fifty in 10 Tests © Getty Images
Matches: New Zealand v India at Wellington
Series/Tournaments: India tour of New Zealand
Teams: India | New Zealand
Two of India’s last three Tests have been bona fide greats. On both occasions, they had victory snatched from their grasp by the old boys of a boys’ high school in Pretoria, Affies. A bit of luck here, a bit of magic there, and India might have registered two of their more famous Test wins. Instead they have question marks against them away from home. They have been much better than they were on their last miserable leg of cricket outside Asia – in England and in Australia – but numbers are stacking up. At some point, players will start doubting themselves, they will begin to wonder just what will it take to win away from home; they have set South Africa a target of more than 450 yet couldn’t close, they have bowled New Zealand out for 105 yet lost. They will wonder if they have forgotten how to win and if they don’t at Basin Reserve, India will have put together – at 11 international matches – their joint-longest winless streak since West Indies came looking for revenge for their World Cup final defeat in 1983.
New Zealand are looking at a happier streak. All through this series they have threatened to squander winning positions, but have somehow got stuck towards the end to keep winning. In their Test history, they have won four Tests in a row only once, but that included two wins against Zimbabwe in 2005. Having won the last two of the series against West Indies, and then in Auckland last week, New Zealand are on the cusp of achieving something memorable. There are already murmurs comparing this team to the three other consistently successful eras in New Zealand history: Richard Hadlee’s, Martin Crowe’s and Stephen Fleming’s.
If they are to win the four in a row, New Zealand will have to do it without one of their two best batsmen of the season: Ross Taylor will be away for the birth of his child. However, in all likelihood, they will get conditions to their liking again. The last time they played in Wellington, they rolled over West Indies on a green top. This time again it is difficult to tell the pitch from the square. Moreover, there has been rain around during the week leading into the Test, so there will be moisture retained.
(last five completed matches, most recent first) New Zealand WWWDDIndia LLDWW
In the spotlight
The New Zealand openers have got a lifeline, but that rope must be getting shorter. Since his debut hundred, Hamish Rutherford has scored just one fifty in 10 Tests. The way he got out both times at Eden Park might also worry them.
The Indian quicks displayed their worst, and their rare best, at Eden Park, but they will need to watch against what happened in South Africa where they were so exhausted from their effort at Wanderers that the intensity was visibly down at Kingsmead.
Two caps will be handed out by New Zealand. Tom Latham will debut in Taylor’s absence, and they have also assessed that on this green pitch they will need an extra seamer so Jimmy Neesham will also get a taste of Test cricket. With Neesham, the batting order will look longer too.
New Zealand 1 Peter Fulton, 2 Hamish Rutherford, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Tom Latham, 5 Brendon McCullum (capt.), 6 Corey Anderson, 7 Jimmy Neesham, 8 BJ Watling (wk), 9 Tim Southee, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Trent Boult
India are unlikely to change their XI. Even if the wicket is a carpet of grass, they won’t want to play four quicks: the last time they did, MS Dhoni was banned for poor over-rate.
India 1 M Vijay, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Rohit Sharma, 6 Ajinkya Rahane, 7 MS Dhoni (capt. & wk), 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Ishant Sharma
Pitch and conditions
Over to Brett Sipthorpe, the groundsman: “I don’t expect they [India] will be too happy when they see that. It has had good pace and bounce in it this summer, and basically we are aiming for exactly what we had for the West Indies one. That was nice and bouncy, and had a little bit of nip around, which suits the seamers.” On the eve of the match though, the grass appeared a little thinner. The weather forecast is good. There hasn’t been any rain since Wednesday morning and we shouldn’t have any disturbances during the match.
Stats and trivia
India have now lost more away Tests under Dhoni than any other captain. His win-loss ratio of 0.45, though, is much better than the captain he just went past, Mohammad Azharuddin. Rahul Dravid’s 1.25 remains the best away win-loss ratio for an Indian captain.
Brendon McCullum is 91 short of becoming only the fourth New Zealander to 5000 Test runs.
In New Zealand’s last three Tests, quick bowlers have taken 59 of the 60 wickets. Sodhi took the 60th, that of No. 11 Tino Best, in Hamilton.
Among bowlers that have taken 150 wickets for India, Ishant Sharma’s strike-rate is better than six spinners, including three from the famous quartet, but his average is better than only Ravi Shastri. Also, his strike-rate is worst among the four quicks that have reached the landmark for India.
“It is a new team, young players who have got five-six matches under their belt. Of course, It takes a bit of time. Last Test we played, we fought back really nicely and even in the last innings, we batted really nicely. There are a lot of positives to take from the last match and it is building our confidence and our strength.”Shikhar Dhawan is not ruling out India’s chances in the second Test