India will kick off the test leg of their tour of New Zealand at Wellington this Friday. It has been a strange tour so far. The limited overs legs were whitewashes – India won the T20 series 5-0 and the hosts blanked India 3-0 in the ODIs. The two-match test series is part of the World Test Championship, which India is comfortably leading at this point. New Zealand, under skipper Kane Williamson, is looking to hit back in the longest format after a demoralising tour of Australia, while India are looking to maintain their lead in the championship. Players like Cheteshwar Pujara and Shubman Gill, who weren’t a part of the limited-overs squads, have already been in New Zealand for the last month playing warm-up games for India A. While Pujara and Gill have looked good, it is opener Mayank Agarwal‘s dull form in the ODI series that is a concern. With Rohit Sharma out injured, Agarwal is the senior opener in the side. India will hope that he hits his rhythm at the right time. Here are five players who may play a key role in the upcoming test series.
Jasprit Bumrah (India)
The best bowler in cricket has gone through a trying time lately. Injury forced him to sit out for three months. His return since has been a steep learning curve for a bowler who rarely fails. Jasprit Bumrah became the first Indian frontline bowler to go wicketless for an entire bilateral series. He conceded 168 runs in 30 wicketless overs across three ODI matches. This was no doubt unexpected, given his pedigree and overseas record. But test cricket is where Bumrah has really hit the strides. He needs to fire if India want to win this series. Bumrah is that important a player, there’s no two ways about it.
Prithvi Shaw (India)
Young Prithvi Shaw has had a tough year after his fairytale debut to test cricket. First it was injury, then he was banned for eight months over a doping violation. Since then he has returned to domestic cricket and scored runs for Mumbai in all formats. He is now back in the reckoning for the opening spot in the Indian side, a spot he had made his before the arrival of Mayank Agarwal and Rohit Sharma. With Sharma injured now, Shaw has the opportunity to return and redeem himself. Shaw is an attacking batsman who looks to score his runs quickly. But this Sehwag-ish attitude may not be the best idea in the swinging conditions of New Zealand. He is expected to open with Agarwal in the first Test, but has his U19 teammate Shubman Gill breathing down his neck for his own debut. Shaw must make this opportunity count if he wants to cement his place in the side.
Ravichandran Ashwin (India)
Given fellow spinnerRavindra Jadeja’s sublime form since last year, it’ll be fascinating to see if Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s most successful bowler in the last decade, finds a spot in the first Test. India is unlikely to play both the spinners together on the Kiwi pitches. Will Jadeja’s batting form give him an advantage, or will Ashwin’s skill with the ball push him ahead? Ashwin will be eager to prove himself on an overseas tour after being away from international cricket for so long. Having fallen out of favour in limited overs cricket since a while, he is a test specialist now, and will therefore hope to ensure a place in the test side.
Kane Williamson (New Zealand)
New Zealand’s captain and premier batsman will be under pressure after a terrible tour of Australia, where he could barely buy a few runs. This is his chance to propel himself back into the limelight, given that he is regularly mentioned in conversations about batting along with Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Babar Azam. Williamson has won tons of fans and admirers after last year’s heartbreaking World Cup final, and he will be supported just as much as any Indian players by the sizeable Indian population in Wellington and Christchurch stadiums.
BJ Watling (New Zealand)
The best wicketkeeper in Test cricket at the moment will also look to make up for a lean tour of Australia. BJ Watling doesn’t play any other format too, and so he will look to shore up the solid New Zealand lower order to frustrate the Indian bowlers in a phase of an innings where India are known to leak runs. He has been the most reliable wicketkeeper in international cricket for many years now, and at number 6, he is an exemplary symbol of technique, patience and skill. Maybe Rishabh Pant can take a few lessons. Watling will hope to add to his tally of 8 Test centuries.
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