Rarely can the gulf in the rankings between two sides seem so insignificant. Following a year when just two of 44 Test matches were won by the away team, and considering India’s losing streak now stands at ten matches, the fact that India are the second ranked Test team and New Zealand the eighth is both misleading and deceiving.
This is a series that will prove far from easy for the visitors.
Admittedly it was just 12 months ago that South Africa routed New Zealand for 45 in Cape Town in a 3-0 whitewash, but in home conditions against a more benign Indian attack, it’s hard to see them imploding similarly. Their form is strong and there’s a real sense of stability to a team that just over a year ago were far from being so following Ross Taylor’s ugly removal from the captaincy.
The superb fast bowling trio of Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner form the spearhead of a side that has enormous potential.
It is the batting that has been problematic in the past, but form and fortune are beginning to align establishing a middle-order of Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum and Corey Anderson that is both prolific and dynamic.
Questions still remain over the opening pairing of Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton, who although in good form in domestic cricket, must surely feel the shadow of the returning Jesse Ryder looming ever larger.
India, meanwhile, are vastly inexperienced in Kiwi conditions and have not won a Test match away from home against anyone other than the West Indies for over three years.
They will be led by their holy trinity of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Zaheer Khan who are perhaps the only three players suitably adept in unfamiliar conditions. The rest of the batting remains either volatile or a work in progress outside of India. Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay demonstrated glimpses of potential in South Africa and are at least more at ease than Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma against the moving ball.
It is not the batting however that is the greatest concern. On pitches that will offer assistance to seam bowlers, the question of whether India’s rarely explosive and often limp bowling attack can extract it is most pertinent. Although Eden Park has been a batting paradise of late, with poor weather around it could be a low-scoring series and when every run matters, India’s bowling cannot let opportunities slip.
Over the longer time span of five days, India will hope that their wealth of natural talent will be enough to overcome the balance and solidity of an improving New Zealand, but in a two-match series they cannot afford to be complacent.