Bowlers give hosts edge in even contest
Match factsFebruary 6-10, 2014
Start time 1100 local (2200 GMT, previous day)
Big PictureAt one of the more oddly shaped grounds in cricket begins what looks like a Test series between evenly matched sides. New Zealand were overwhelmingly the better side in the ODIs, but they will surely know it won't be easy to roll India over during the Tests. There is evidence of that in how India put up a fight in the Tests in South Africa after an ODI series that was even more horrible than the one in New Zealand. Also the hosts have a record to correct, that of having won only three home Tests - two against West Indies and one against Zimbabwe - since the start of 2011.
India have a statistic of their own to match. They haven't won any of their last 12 away Tests. They can draw inspiration from how well they played on the first four days of the Wanderers Test. The biggest difference from the ODIs will be that their batsmen will be able to allow a few short balls go through without the pressure of having to score at more than six an over. Four Indian batsmen showed they had the patience to keep respecting the good balls in South Africa; India will need more of that.
It won't be as easy for New Zealand quicks, good as they are, as it was in the ODIs. The onus, still, will be on Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and Corey Anderson to take 20 wickets on what generally are true surfaces that don't break up, which shows in nine draws out of 12 matches since the start of 2011. Southee and Boult nearly delivered a win in Bangalore in 2012-13; they will want to go the whole way this time.
For Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara there are Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson. These are four batsmen as good as any for two batting sides to revolve around. It's the bowling where New Zealand score over India, but they will need the best of batting from batsmen other than Taylor and Williamson to make sure that advantage is not squandered.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand WWDDD
In the spotlightIf there is to be a turnaround for India, you'd imagine Kohli will have a role to play. In South Africa, too, he was the first man to make India believe they could compete. It is not just the runs Kohli makes, it's his enforcer attitude that lifts the team up. Only when he can marshal the batting unit can India ponder the question of how to take 20 wickets.
Taylor will be New Zealand's enforcer. It is not about the pace of scoring, it is the underlying threat that he can take the game away.
Teams newsNew Zealand have a pretty settled combination with Corey Anderson batting at No. 6 and wicketkeeper BJ Watling coming in at No. 7. They have resisted the temptation of playing four quicks, which means Doug Bracewell will sit out, making this a big match for the India-born legspinner Ish Sodhi, against some of the best players of spin.
New Zealand 1 Peter Fulton, 2 Hamish Rutherford, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Brendon McCullum (capt.), 6 Corey Anderson, 7 BJ Watling, 8 Tim Southee, 9. Neil Wagner, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Ish Sodhi
India won't be changing their top seven from the Durban Test unless they see a really flat pitch and play five bowlers with MS Dhoni batting at No. 6 and R Ashwin at 7. Don't hold your breath, though. Ravindra Jadeja should be rewarded with a place ahead of Ashwin, and Ishant Sharma should compete with Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the third seamer's slot. Ishant's height and pace might go for him, but Bhuvneshwar had a much better ODI series.
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 Bhuvneshwar Kumar/ Ishant Sharma
Pitch and conditionsThere is a bit of grass on the Eden Park pitch, McCullum said, but not enough to make New Zealand play four quicks. "Decent covering of grass," he said. "Funny-looking grass, too, at one end. Good hard surface. Expect more bounce than it had against England. A bit of pace in it as well. Don't expect a huge amount of movement sideways, but it might just be enough." India won all the tosses in the ODI series without much impact, but McCullum will do anything to win one here, because batting first will be difficult.
The weather forecast is not great with showers forecast on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Stats and trivia
- Three of Zaheer Khan's seven away five-fors have come in New Zealand.
- No spinner other than Daniel Vettori has taken 50 wickets in New Zealand.
- As was the case with South Africa's batsmen, India coach Duncan Fletcher has worked as a consultant with the New Zealand batsmen too.
- Taylor, who reached the 4000-run mark during the series against West Indies, took 94 innings to get there, only one more than the fastest New Zealander to the mark, Martin Crowe.
Quotes"Bowlers are going pretty good at the moment. They are bowling well in partnerships. They are getting the ball to swing in the air, they are also pretty hostile when they get the chance to bowl at the tail. The way our seamers have been operating has been one of the most pleasing aspects of our Test game this summer."
Brendon McCullum trusts his bowlers
"We have not capitalised when we had crucial situations in the game. If you talk about the last series we played [against South Africa], we had one bad session, two-and-a-half hours of bad cricket that we played. We have seen in this format, it can have a big impact on the game. It is important that when we are in a situation where we can dictate terms, it is very important we go through that phase and keep building on it."
MS Dhoni on India's recent Test performances
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo