If we were to ask the two teams exactly where this Test series sits on their priority list, their answers would tell us plenty. With the World T20 just around the corner and the hoopla that goes with winning it, you would think that New Zealand and India would have one eye on the two Tests and the other on preparing and practicing their T20 skills.
Now, cross-eyed cricketers don't usually play well. But the schedule is what it is. Besides, I don't imagine for one minute that India and its wonderful fans, even with their patience and resilience, would tolerate a ninth or tenth Test loss. Or, even a first one at home in more than two years. Before a ball is bowled, they will be expecting a home series win.
New Zealand will be hell bent on competing and snatching another famous away win. They had a disappointing trip to the Caribbean where they lost both the Tests. They will be better prepared for this series. At present though, questions still remain over the batting, and with the absence of Dan Vettori, the strength of their spin attack.
With my coaching hat on, I would be encouraging the New Zealand batsmen to work very hard at rotating the strike, playing with soft hands and not getting tied down against the Indian spinners. New Zealand’s bowling strength has recently been based around the frugal Vettori and the emergence of some very promising young fast bowlers.
Reverse swing will be important, as well as the ability to bowl straight and from there, holding every chance. I am most curious to see what bowling combination New Zealand settle on. Teams have come to India and felt obliged to play two spinners. The answer to my mind is simple. Pick your four best bowlers. On pure gut feel, I think New Zealand could go with one spinner, probably Tarun Nethula, play three quicks, and leave the off spin role to Kane Williamson.
I expect India to get enough runs but they may be rusty, and some, getting the opportunity at last perhaps, even a little anxious. Early wickets are the key. Getting Sehwag early is critical. Any team coming to India, when bowling, wishes for two things; Viru out quickly and Sachin in early. As his numbers tell you, getting Sachin out can be an entirely different matter, but to get him in early puts the pressure on and gives you the best chance.
Another point of interest for Indian fans may well be to gauge the effectiveness of India's bowling attack. And the big question is: can it take 20 wickets at home? If New Zealand don’t win the series, they would still see a drawn series as progress, but would India feel the same?
(360 Corporate Relation)
The writer is a former NZ coach