The much-awaited Durga Puja is around the corner and the City of Joy is in a festive mood. A dose of cricket, in the form of the second Test between India and New Zealand starting at the Eden Gardens on Friday, is icing on the cake.
However, it is serious business for Virat Kohli & Co. There is hardly any scope for complacency for India, especially after its big win over New Zealand in its 500th Test and series opener.
Immediately after securing a 1-0 lead, Kohli, having noticed the intent and hard work of the opposition, underlined the possibility of the series getting more competitive.
The Kiwis held their heads high in defeat. They displayed determination and application on a turning track of Kanpur, where visiting sides have often surrendered meekly.
The biggest takeaway for New Zealand is the performance of promising allrounder Mitchell Santner. During the World Twenty20, he had shown his capability to adapt to the Indian conditions well. Backed by grit, courage and self-belief, he switched nicely to the longer format.
Through a tight schedule in hot and humid conditions, timely recovery of its players will hold the key for New Zealand. Captain Kane Williamson was unwell and missed Thursday’s practice session. It will be a big jolt to the Black Caps if he does not recover in time.
Allrounder Jimmy Neesham may make a comeback if he is fit enough to play. Off-spinner Mark Craig, who was ruled out with a side strain, has made way for Jeetan Patel.
Trent Boult was good on a spinner-friendly track and young leg-spinner Ish Sodhi also impressed with his discipline. Williamson, Tom Latham, Luke Ronchi and Santner gained a lot of confidence by applying themselves on the dusty Green Park pitch. It should inspire their fellow batsmen to put up a better show.
New Zealand may think about replacing out-of-form opener Martin Guptill with Ronchi and must find a solution to Ross Taylor’s struggle against spinners.
India will have to take a look at its strategy of fielding four bowlers. Whenever the Kiwi batsmen looked defiant, the deadly spin duo of R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja seemed clueless. If Kohli opts to go with five bowlers, then leg-spinner Amit Mishra may add teeth to the attack. The inclusion of off-spinner Jayant Yadav provides more options.
On an abrasive pitch, the home pacers used the older ball well and Mohammed Shami stood out with his reverse swing.
In batting, Kohli has to make a choice between Shikhar Dhawan and his Delhi teammate Gautam Gambhir, who returns to the Indian side after two years to replace an injured K.L. Rahul.
M. Vijay was a class act and Pujara was fabulous in the first match. They would likely to continue their good work. Ashwin and Jadeja’s timely contribution with the bat should be comforting for the host.
Kohli, who fell to loose shots in both innings, will be keen to make amends and play a bigger knock.
There will be a question mark over Rohit Sharma though. He has allowed critics to suspect his temperament in Test cricket and will be lucky to keep his place in the playing XI.
India will be eager to make another landmark Test, its 250th home match, memorable by sealing the series here.
The Eden Gardens, hosting a Test after three years and New Zealand after 51 years, has staged many an Indian win with the spinners dictating terms. As a player Anil Kumble was part of several of them. Now as the head coach, he would wish India continue its love affair with the iconic ground presenting a brand new pitch.
Only the weather gods pose a threat to the Indian ambition.
The teams (from):
India: M. Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt.), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gamhir, R. Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Amit Mishra, Jayant Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt.), Doug Bracewell, Matt Henry, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi, Ish Sodhi, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Jeetan Patel, Mitchell Santner, Ross Taylor and B-J. Watling.
Match starts at 9:30 a.m.