September 22-26, 2016
Start time 0930 local (0400 GMT)
There was a time until recently when India had whitewashed series' longer than two Tests only twice in the history of their Test cricket. Then they went on back-to-back trips to England and Australia, lost everything there and decided they needed to fix their pitches back home. Since 2012, India have whitewashed Australia, were denied a similar treatment of South Africa by weather and are entering a season looking so dominant at home they can even win all 13 Tests.
It is not too difficult to imagine how. Their confidence has soared thanks to the wins. The quality is there too. R Ashwin averages 20.92 at home, Ravindra Jadeja 15.70. They take a wicket every eight overs. Jadeja chokes the batsmen with relentless accuracy and pace, Ashwin slits their throats with sharp action on the ball. Amit Mishra, the third spinner in the attack, is capable on turning tracks. And the groundsmen are now playing ball. This 13-Test season could potentially establish playing Test cricket in India as the toughest challenge in cricket today.
The first of the 13 Tests, also India's 500th, starts in Kanpur. There could be no place further from home for New Zealand. Despite it being September, it is oppressively hot, still and humid. The pitch is cracked and dry, ripe for the spinners although the groundsmen don't expect a repeat of Nagpur last year. It is a city where both the teams are stuck indoors: there is not much to do outside and no outsiders are allowed to visit even the restaurants in their hotel.
Before they lost to South Africa, New Zealand were being considered the team best placed of the four visiting India this season. They have three spinners and reverse-swing bowlers, but they have the experience of winning only two Tests in India, the last of those in 1988. They have the ingredients, albeit raw, but they will have to discover a way to win in India; they don't have anybody passing it on to them. While they are a team that has begun to live up to its potential in limited-overs cricket, of late they have shown a bit of fear of the big occasion. And this, with them expected to do better than they have done in recent times in India, is a big occasion.
India DWDWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand LDWWL
In the spotlight
On a pitch that has cracks, a pitch that is expected to break up, the toss becomes crucial. If you are a touring side, you desperately want to bat first because batting is expected to get progressively difficult from ball one. India won all four tosses last year.
Ajinkya Rahane was the only batsman to score a century in India's last home season. There is a reason for that. He has the best all-round game among the Indians, he prepares meticulously and will again be key for India, especially in his role as the bridge between the top order and the lower order, which has contributed handsomely of late.
Any visiting side to India needs a solid batsman who can trust his defence. Last year, India snatched that trust away from Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis. New Zealand will hope captain Kane Williamson does better and shows the rest that it is possible to bat in India.
India's three first-innings scores last season were 140 for 6, 125 for 6, 139 for 6. They recovered from each of these crisis; South Africa had no lower-order contributions. In low-scoring series', the lower order's runs are crucial. India have the same lower order, but New Zealand have one better than South Africa's: Mitchell Santner and Mark Craig are capable, and Trent Boult and Ish Sodhi are not mugs.
With Ishant Sharma ruled out with chikungunya, a mosquito-borne viral infection, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is almost a certainty in the Indian XI. Under Virat Kohli as full-time captain, India have played the first Test with five bowlers, but this time the indications are that they believe they can win on this Kanpur pitch with four bowlers. That could mean another chance for Rohit Sharma. "We spoke about solidifying the batting a little bit more. All the teams have quality spinners and you don't want to leave a window for the opposition teams to capitalise," Kohli said in a press conference.
If India do go in with five bowlers, Umesh Yadav could be brought in to utilise the reverse swing available. From the activity in the nets, it seems India have made up their minds to leave Shikhar Dhawan out.
India (probable): 1 M Vijay, 2 KL Rahul, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt.), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 R Ashwin, 8 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 9 Ravindra Jadeja, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Amit Mishra
New Zealand have had some decisions made for them with the injuries to Tim Southee and Jimmy Neesham. They, too, are expected to play all three of their spinners. Trent Boult should play. With reverse swing expected, Neil Wagner becomes a big factor, but do they want two left-arm quicks, not least because they will only create rough for Ashwin to play with? Doug Bracewell is a better batsman than Wagner, which could become a factor. Martin Guptill should open despite his failures in the warm-up game in Delhi, and Luke Ronchi's century.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Tom Latham, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Kane Williamson (capt.), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Mark Craig, 9 Ish Sodhi, 10 Neil Wagner/ Doug Bracewell, 11 Trent Boult
Pitch and conditions
The cracks on the pitch were plain to see two days before the Test, but the groundsmen have promised this won't be a repeat of Nagpur. The Nagpur pitch didn't see any water in the lead-up to the Test, this one is getting watered. The cracks are neither loose nor powdery. Yet in the heat, the pitch is expected to break up fairly soon. Expect a lot of turn and reverse swing. Also don't be surprised if the middle of the pitch is lifeless and the spinners' business areas are full of action.
Stats and trivia
Neil Wagner is six wickets short of 100 wickets. He has played 23 Tests; no New Zealander has reached 100 wickets in his first 24 Tests.
New Zealand's last three series in Asia have all been drawn
R Ashwin is seven short of 200 Test wickets; he will be among the fastest when he gets there.
"We expect really good competition and good, hard-fought cricket. They're a side that doesn't give up and they have pretty skillful players in their team. So we're very wary of that, but at the same time we're aware of our strengths as well."
India captain Virat Kohli is respectful of the opposition but confident in his own side
"We have won two Test matches in our history here. So we know it is a tough place to come and win. As it is for any touring side. And India are playing good cricket at the moment, but we have got a group of cricketers who will be highly competitive. That's our challenge. To be highly competitive and stay in the game for long periods of time. Then anything can happen."
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson knows the enormity of the challenge ahead