India played their 500th Test match on 22 September 2016, the first of the series against New Zealand, and started their long home season on an impressive note. The comprehensive 197-run win at Kanpur was, in large part, due to the spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Both created and broke many records in that match with their all-round efforts, and would like to continue their supremacy over the Kiwi batsmen, as the caravan moves to Kolkata, with the iconic Eden Gardens hosting the next match, India's 250th Test at home.
Overall, India has an atrocious record at the Eden Gardens as compared to other Indian grounds on which they have played more than 20 Tests, but their recent record at this ground is terrific.
Who can forget VVS Laxman's knock of 281 runs against Australia when India needed it the most? Laxman shared a partnership of 376 runs with Rahul Dravid, who scored 180 runs with India following on. The duo changed India's fortunes in one of the most dramatic recoveries India ever made in Test cricket. That was the day when Laxman carved a place for himself in the history of cricket at the Eden Gardens.
However, that Test is not only remembered for Laxman and Dravid's heroics, but also for the exploits of Punjab off-spinner Harbhajan Singh who took a hat trick – the first ever by an Indian in Test cricket. India have since played eight Tests at Eden Gardens, and if that historic match is included, India have won six and drawn two matches. They lost only one Test match, against England in 2012, during this period of almost 16-and-a-half years.
India's win percentage at Kanpur's Green Park before this Test series was 28.57 – the same as that at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore – but after winning the first Test, their win percentage is now 31.81. At the Eden Gardens, India would like to continue the same trend, and if they win the next Test, they will not only improve their win percentage at the ground but also win their ninth Test series against New Zealand on home soil.
The Eden Gardens is a ground to treasure for every Indian cricket fan, especially the ones who love to see batsmen hit big sixes, because the distance of the boundary from the centre of the pitch is the shortest among the six venues mentioned above, except Mumbai's Wankhede and Bangalore's M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
However, the reality is somewhat different, Eden Gardens is not a free-scoring ground in Tests with the average innings score being the second lowest after that at the Wankhede, among all six venues at which at least 20 Test matches have been played till date.
It is said that visiting teams must win the toss and bat first in India as it is almost impossible to bat in the fourth innings of a Test match against the mighty Indian spinners, and that was exactly the story of the Kanpur Test. The toss factor will also be vital at the Eden Gardens as this historic ground is known to help spinners on the last three days of a Test. Let's look at how the toss impacted the result of the matches at the Eden Gardens so far:
The table clearly suggests what a captain should do if he wins the toss at Eden Gardens. However, it should be noted that New Zealand has not lost a single Test against India at this ground. They have played two and both ended in a draw. The road is difficult for New Zealand, but the only positive for them is that both the Tests they have won in India – Nagpur in 1969 and Mumbai (Wankhede) in 1988 – were the second matches of the series.
If New Zealand wants to not lose the next Test, it will be important for their spinners not to give easy boundaries and bowl as many dot balls as possible to put pressure on India's batsmen. We saw the Indian spinners getting more turn than their New Zealand counterparts in the first Test, but that is not the sole requirement for getting wickets. As compared to the accuracy of the Indian spinners, who conceded only 43 boundaries and picked up 16 wickets, the New Zealand spinners conceded 54 boundaries and picked up ten wickets. At the Eden Gardens, New Zealand might think of including an extra pacer as pacers have taken more wickets with a better strike rate as compared to spinners.
In the first Test, New Zealand lost wickets in a clump mainly on the third day which helped India get back into the match. If the story does not change, the scoreline will be in India's favour again, because as a foreign team, one needs to make the most of dominant positions to win a Test match in India.
Ashwin dismissed three Kiwi batsmen (Tom Latham, Kane Williamson and Mitchell Santner) twice in the first Test, becoming the first Indian bowler to dismiss three or more New Zealand batsmen twice in two different Tests. In the other Test in 2012 at Hyderabad, he had dismissed four New Zealand batsmen twice. New Zealand batsmen should probably play Ashwin as late as possible and on the backfoot, otherwise it will be hard for them to counter the Indian spin attack.
India, on the other hand, will be hoping that both men have the wherewithal to run through this New Zealand batting lineup again in India's 250th Test match at home to make it more memorable.
India had a challenging first Test in many ways since England's tour of India in 2012. Add to that the fact that at one point, New Zealand were ahead of India in terms of winning sessions, but then in order to win a Test in India, a visiting batsman needs to play a big innings.
New Zealand relied on Williamson for that. He tried to do so in the first innings but he needed support from the other end. In the second Test, the onus will be on other New Zealand batsmen to improve their numbers in India by performing decently alongside their in-form skipper Williamson.