Here’s a great chance for Dhoni to set right his team’s away Test record of no wins in 12 outings of which they have lost 10. As India go up against the Kiwis in the first of the two Tests at Basin Reserve, conditions are expected to favour seam rather than spin, though eventually, rains that are forecast could have a final say.
Much of the discussion centred around the bowling combination, though largely it depended on the number of specialist batsmen. If only for the sake of variety, I would have included both Ashwin and Jadeja to bowl in harness with the seamers. That would have left spots only for six batsmen with the choice to be made between Rahane and Rohit to come in at No.5 behind Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara and Kohli, but ahead of Dhoni.
In my book, Rahane is a better bet than Rohit whose form outside India has been far too “iffy”. In contrast, Rahane has appeared solid with more patience to construct a big innings rather than Rohit’s propensity to throw it all away after a good start. I feel, far too much has been made of Rohit’s “potential” that to date remains unfulfilled and to keep harping on this makes little sense. He has been given enough and more opportunities, and it is time another youngster like Rahane enjoys the benefit of an extended run.
As for the seam bowling, I would have gone with Ishant, Bhuvneshwar and Shami rather than have veteran Zaheer to lead the pack. Though Zaheer had fared well in New Zealand on the last tour, he is six years older now and during the period, a series of injuries has impacted his bowling.
Likewise, Ishant too had performed well on his last visit as a teenager with raw pace. Though he might be a yard slower now, the bouncy wicket at Basin Reserve is in his favour.
Umesh Yadav and young Ishwar Pandey, who bowled well in the only side game ahead of the Test series, too are in the ring. So, Dhoni has plenty of seam options.
Whatever, the main point of interest would be the team’s performance especially after the drubbing in the just-concluded ODI series. The Kiwis would be looking to ride the momentum and high confidence level to put it past the Indians in the two Test matches.
In any case, the Indians have never fared well in Kiwiland where they won a series last time out after over a decade. But this time around, the top six batsmen – Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Yuvraj – who toured five years ago are missing and that will put the newcomers in the headlights.
If anything, Dhoni has his task cut out, first in picking the right combination and second, inspiring his men to come up with the goods. For the skipper, it will be another test of character following a string of defeats on foreign soil in contrast to victories on the placid home pitches.
Though there is no questioning his leadership ability, the manner in which he has handled newcomers leaves lot to be desired. Stuart Binny, for instance, toured with the ODI team and got to play just one match where he did not get to bat and was given just one over before being cast away. To his credit, Binny did not waste time in flying direct to Hyderabad to be with his Karnataka mates and celebrate the Ranji Trophy success.
Talking about Ranji Trophy, Karnataka deserved all the kudos, though the final against Maharashtra was not a good advertisement for country’s top tournament. There was far too much of negative play, questionable umpiring decisions and the player behaviour could have been better.
Nevertheless, it was still a top performance by Karnataka who scored seven outright victories in winning the tournament. It was a timely boost for the game in Karnataka after a few seasons of disappointment.