In India, New Zealand can expect pitches that turn, and often, turn big and early
If you blinked, there is a strong chance you missed New Zealand’s Test tour of South Africa.
It was blighted before it even began by that modern-day curse of scheduling and reduced to just a two-Test series.
There was little over a day’s play in the first Test and the second was over in four.
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And yet, even within this truncated time, New Zealand found enough reasons to wonder whether the love-in with the world that was Brendon McCullum’s captaincy was officially over.
In that time, they managed to lose 22 wickets for a combined total of 424 runs, in return failing to dismiss South Africa two innings out of three.
In the blink of an eye, they had lost a Test by 204 runs, and with it a series they should have had higher expectations from.
There were mitigating circumstances, most obviously that they ran into a fully fit and functional Dale Steyn.
And further, a Dale Steyn who felt he may have to prove wrong those who have doubted his future over the past year.
So that was never going to be easy. And it is unfair to judge them on the basis of what was barely a series.
But that loss now does make the India series, which begins in Kanpur on Thursday, an even more daunting challenge than before.
India at home represents among the toughest challenges to any side right now, alongside Australia at home and Pakistan in the UAE.
Since losing a series to England in 2012/13, India have won nine out of the past 10 Tests at home.
They have not just won them either; in most instances they have taken apart the opposition. Three of the wins have been by an innings, three by more than 100 runs and three by six wickets or more. They were in control of the solitary drawn Test in that run as well and had it not rained, could conceivably have won it.
New Zealand will face much the same kind of tests that South Africa and Australia before them did in India: pitches that turn, and often, turn big and early. Already it is clear that Kanpur’s surface will turn from the off.
But predicting a New Zealand capitulation is not so straightforward, certainly not ahead of a first Test of the series (lose the first, especially in India, and things unravel quickly).
Though it was an entirely different format, the tourists showed enough smarts and willingness to adapt to unfamiliar conditions at the World Twenty20 in India earlier this year. They dropped their opening pace bowlers, picked three spinners and burst through the group stages.
Unlike Australia and South Africa, they have the resources on paper to adjust to these surfaces, even if they will direly miss Tim Southee’s reverse swing.
In fact, on that piece of paper, Ish Sodhi’s legspin, Mitchell Santner’s left-arm orthodox and Mark Craig’s offspin come together to form a deliciously rounded – if inexperienced – spinning triumvirate.
It will, however, likely come down to how New Zealand’s batting copes against a spinning attack that, like theirs, covers all bases but brings a vastly different degree of potency. The last time New Zealand were in India, Ravichandran Ashwin took 18 wickets in two Tests against them and he is a better bowler now. In all, spin accounted for 31 of the 40 New Zealand wickets to fall.
A lot will be expected of Tom Latham, who is exactly the kind of patient, no-frills opener sides need in these conditions. He has promising previous too, in the shape of two excellent hundreds (both made in more than five hours each) in the UAE against Pakistan two seasons ago.
It is directly below him, however, that the real game will be played: Kane Williamson, captain, leading batsman and one down, and Ross Taylor, the heir apparent to Martin Crowe as the country’s finest batsman until Williamson came along, at four.
If this pair can repel India’s spinners for any length of time and score runs in the process, then New Zealand have a real chance to come out of this series with something to show for it.
If not, they may well conform to those pre-season predictions that they are merely appetisers in India’s longest home season for years.
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Published: September 21, 2016 04:00 AM