Wellington: India will face their toughest challenge of the World Test Championship till date as they face hosts New Zealand in the first Test of the two-match series at the Basin Reserve, here on Friday.
India have won each of their seven games in the World Test Championship so far, and currently occupy the top position in the standings with 360 points.
They will look to maintain their perfect record in the World Test Championship but will have to battle a formidable Kiwi pace attack in windy conditions at the Basin Reserve.
Earlier, India thrashed New Zealand aside by 5-0 in the T20I series and the hosts returned the favour in the ODIs, winning each of the three games. The focus now shifts to the longest format, where the two teams have had contrasting fortunes of late.
India had an unbeaten run in 2019, beginning with a draw in Sydney that sealed their first series win in Australia, followed by clean sweeps against West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh.
On the other hand, New Zealand were unbeaten in each Test series since December 2017, before that glorious run was disrupted by a 0-3 sweep at the hands of their trans-Tasman rivals in December-January.
India have a full-strength squad to choose from apart from opener Rohit Sharma, who is nursing a calf injury.
Sharma's absence presents an opportunity for one of Shubman Gill or Prithvi Shaw to partner Mayank Agarwal at the top, with Shaw probably being the front-runner, having outscored Gill in Hamilton.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli set to play at No 3 and 4 respectively. Rishabh Pant didn't feature in the XI in the last two series, with Wriddhiman Saha being the preferred option.However, the former's superior batting exploits, especially in overseas conditions, make a strong case for his inclusion.
Hanuma Vihari, who scored a century in the warm-up game, is set to start as the sixth batsman.With Ishant Sharma also fit to play, having recovered from an ankle injury, India are likely to go in with a bowling attack comprising him, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, with Ravichandran Ashwin as the spinner.
For Black Caps, the form of Ross Taylor, who is set to make his 100th Test appearance, stands out as the biggest positive. While skipper Kane Williamson's record at the Basin Reserve is one to marvel at 1,048 runs at 65.50, with a highest of 242*, BJ Watling's solidity in the middle order can't be overlooked.
They'll miss the services of Neil Wagner, their top-ranked bowler in ICC Test Rankings, as he is expecting the birth of his child and may leave the team to join his family. Matt Henry was called up as cover for Wagner.
However, the return of Trent Boult and the promise shown by young Kyle Jamieson in the ODI series still leave the fast-bowling department well-covered.In the spin department, New Zealand called up Ajaz Patel ahead of leg-spinner Todd Astle.(UNI)