Kanpur: A formidable Indian cricket team is expected to dominate the visiting New Zealand by revelling in home conditions in its historic 500th Test match, which will herald the beginning of a long 13-match home season, in Kanpur from Thursday.
There is an extra bit of statistics and history attached with the match for it being the team's 500th Test match since it started playing the game 80 years back.
The team played its first ever Test when it was a British colony in 1932 but over the years, has established itself as a force in world cricket.
The Indian team has always been an intimidating side on spin-friendly tracks under sultry conditions and the script is unlikely to change unless the Kiwis master the conditions.
However, the threat of rains looms large on the opening Test of the three-match series with predictions of heavy downpour in the next six days.
The Green Park track promises to be a true Indian Test wicket where spinners will have a major role to play and skipper Virat Kohli will have no hesitation in going in with Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra.
Moreover, New Zealand have not had enough practice to get ready for the series. The only warm-up game they played against Mumbai was on a flat Feroz Shah Kotla track in Delhi, where their bowlers bled runs.
Martin Guptill, one of the Kiwis' best batsmen in recent times, lasted a mere 21 balls in his two innings even as Luke Ronchi staked claim for the opener's slot with a century in the second innings of that game.
It was actually Mumbai who dominated the practice match with three of their batsmen striking a century each in the first innings.
Even history is heavily stacked against the visitors, who have not won a Test on the Indian soil in their last 14 attempts. The last Test New Zealand won here was way back in 1998.
In the 15-man squad, young captain Kane Williamson along with Ross Taylor is the most experienced player with five Tests here.
In complete contrast, India have won nine of their last 10 Tests played at home and the only draw was against South Africa last year in Bangalore and that too because it was a weather-affected contest.
The headache for India would be to determine the opening the slots.
Left-hander Shikhar Dhawan, who struggled to get a single fifty during the West Indies Tour, is still facing competition from the young KL Rahul, who had impressed in the Caribbean by scoring a century each in both Tests and T20s.
Dhawan himself has said that competition is good for the Indian team and it will not be a surprise if Rahul gets to open with Murali Vijay.
Although Vijay also did not have a great Caribbean Tour and it remains to be seen who gets the axe?
Chetsehwar Pujara also had an ordinary West Indies tour but is a certainty in the middle order along with skipper Kohli after a strong showing in the Duleep Trophy, where he hit an unbeaten 256 for India Blue.
The series will be a big test for Rohit Sharma, whose prodigious talent has always been a topic of discussion. Labelled as an underachiever in Tests, he has not done enough justice to his abilities as he has not been consistent enough.
The Mumbaikar needs to bat long in the middle and he is fighting for one of the middle order positions with Ajinkya Rahane, who was impressive in the West Indies series and scored a century and a fifty.
With spinners set to play a major role in this series, Jadeja with his left-arm spin and batting ability is an easy pick along with leg-spinner Amit Mishra and the seasoned Ashwin.
Having Jadeja in the ranks gives Kohli that extra batsman in the side. As Ishant Sharma has been ruled out after being diagnosed with Chikunguniya, it has become a three-way fight among Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshvar Kumar and Umesh Yadav for the two fast bowling places.
New Zealand have their own problems with paceman Tim Southee being ruled out of the series due to an ankle injury, while all-rounder James Neesham will miss the opening Test due to a rib injury.
For New Zealand, much would depend on how skipper Williamson, Guptill and Ross Taylor fare. On their own, they are class apart but the challenging conditions and spinning track will certainly make their life tough.
Leg-break bowler Ish Sodhi and left-armer Mitchell Santner will lead the spin front for the visitors.
The spin-friendly track will help them too but the way they were handled by the Mumbai batsmen in Kotla game, the visiting team spinners are unlikely to trouble the strong home batting line-up.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Mark Craig, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, James Neesham, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner and BJ Watling.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshvar Kumar, Amit Mishra, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav.
Match to start at 9:30am IST.
Updated Date: Sep 21, 2016 20:17 PM