February 21: New Zealand v India, first Test, Wellington
Our XI: Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, Ajinkya Rahane, BJ Watling, Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Henry Nicholls, Ross Taylor, R Ashwin/Ravindra Jadeja.
NOTE: We might not always be able to tip you off about late injury (or other relevant) updates
Captain: Kane Williamson
It might have been the other way round if this was a home Test for India, but in New Zealand, you have to have Williamson as your captain. Williamson’s class is undoubted, but his hunger will have a sharper edge too. He wasn’t among the runs in New Zealand’s last Test series, away against Australia, and missed out on a chunk of the limited-overs matches against India just when the form seemed to have returned. Then, also, there’s the fact that his average zooms to 59.84 when playing at home.
Vice-captain: Virat Kohli
Kohli has played only two Tests in New Zealand, but they were enough to give him an average of 71.33 in the country. The best all-format batsman in the world will have a point to prove after India were blanked in the ODIs. An intense, driven Kohli is the kind oppositions fear most, and the kind fantasy league players love most.
Mohammed Shami: Perhaps no bowler has so thrilled the senses as Shami in the past year, on a consistent basis. The upright seam, the subtle control, the devastating movement – Shami has it all. Even if New Zealand’s pitches have tended towards being more batting-friendly in recent times, Shami has the class to net a bagful of wickets.
Ross Taylor: It’s not just because it’s his 100th Test, it’s not just because he’s been in terrific form and it’s not just because he got 200 the last time he batted in a Test match at Basin Reserve – it’s a combination of all of that. Taylor hasn’t let age slow him down, and on the day he becomes the first man to play 100 Tests, ODIs and T20Is, you can expect the occasion to also give him an extra lift.
Jasprit Bumrah: He wasn’t at his most incisive in the ODIs, but a Bumrah on fire is a bowler like no other. There were two factors at play in the ODIs, neither of which are particularly applicable for Test cricket. First, Bumrah was still rusty and didn’t have overs in his legs. Second, New Zealand could afford to play him out to some extent. He’s been building up to his pre-injury rhythm, though, and should be a handful with the red ball.
BJ Watling: Watling tends to slip under the radar when there’s talk about the best wicketkeeper in the world, but he has more than earned the right to be in that conversation. Watling almost guarantees you valuable runs, as well as points with the gloves. A must-have in your team.
Ajinkya Rahane: Quietly but surely, Rahane has left behind all the talk about his form that was dogging him less than a year ago. There have been runs against West Indies away and South Africa at home, and Rahane warmed up for this Test with a century against New Zealand A. He’s historically had a productive time in New Zealand and against them.
Points to note
Ishant Sharma and Trent Boult are both coming back from injuries. Both have been bowling fine at the nets, and Boult has already been included in New Zealand’s XII. But best go in without them to start with.
The addition of whichever spinner India wish to go with – Ashwin or Jadeja – is as insurance. If the pitch turns out to be a green one, then it’s worth going for another pace option instead of the spinner.
Neil Wagner is out because he has opted to stay back at home for the birth of his child. Kyle Jamieson has been named to make his debut come game time, so if you choose to avoid the spinner, he might be a good pick.