Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
It's been a "strange" five months for Ross Taylor. Since hitting the four that made New Zealand Test world champions on June 23, he has not played any cricket. Now, as he returns from his break to begin New Zealand's next cycle in the World Test Championship, he knows things will likely get harder for them if anything. For one, they will not be flying under the radar but come in as the champions, and they have one of the toughest assignments in world cricket to kick things off: India in India.
"We can say we're world champions now and that's suddenly different, trying to retain it," Taylor said. "It's sort of a harder place to start. We started in Sri Lanka last time and we drew that series. It's going to be a great two years I'm sure."
New Zealand will be touring India, Pakistan and England in the current WTC cycle and will be playing Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and South Africa at home. In the previous cycle, they started with a drawn series in Sri Lanka but went on to lose 3-0 in Australia. They returned home to win against India, West Indies and Pakistan and became the first side to qualify for the final after Australia's tour of South Africa was postponed over Covid-19 concerns.
Taylor believes experience will be key in overcoming the challenges of a series in India. "We've gone so many years as underdogs. But now coming in as champions: I guess the element of surprise is gone. But any time you play India at home you're going to be the underdogs, whether you're No. 1 in the world or where they sit in international cricket at the time. They are resting a couple of players but they're still a formidable side and know these conditions really well.
"The way we adapt to these conditions is going to be the key going forward. Some of the guys have played many a time here before. We'll be looking forward to hopefully use that experience to make things slightly easier but we know it's going to be tough."
Taylor had mixed feelings about his long break, acknowledging how crucial it is to get some game-time ahead of playing in Indian conditions. This time around even more so, as New Zealand have had to train without additional net bowlers due to Covid-19 restrictions.
"When you're coming to India you want to play as much cricket as you want and can," Taylor said. "Preparation so far has been fantastic. [But] it's a little bit different having no net bowlers, you know, facing our [own] bowlers as preparation. It's been key. I have been lining up to face spinners, they bowl a lot of overs. Normally you [also] get 10-15 overs of net bowlers of spin to practice. It is slightly different but it is what it is and it's an interesting challenge both on the field and off it as well."
Taylor has some experience playing Test cricket in the country, having been on tours in 2010, 2012 and 2016, and he has some ideas on how New Zealand can tackle India's bowlers in these conditions.
"Obviously spin plays a major part. The new ball, it can do a bit but it can also be the easiest time to score sometimes. India have world-class spinners and know how to set batters up in these conditions. For us, it's about been able to pick up the lengths as quick as possible and trust the defence.
"When there are a lot of men around the bat, it can be an intimidating place to start your innings but having said that... Getting through those first 10-20 balls is going to be crucial and it's a bit of a cliche, but things do get easier. But no, it's going to a big challenge for us, especially the batting unit."
After the conclusion of the ongoing T20I series, which India has wrapped up with a game to spare, the first Test kicks off on November 25 in Kanpur followed by a second in Mumbai from December 3.