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Kanpur Test: Ajinkya Rahane’s form in focus as India begin new era against world champions New Zealand

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Ajinkya Rahane may have brushed aside concerns over his batting form but he will be in the spotlight while leading a weakened India in the first of a 2-Test series against New Zealand in Kanpur from Thursday, November 25. Rahane will have the backing of head coach Rahul Dravid, who will be looking forward to build on the legacy of Ravi Shastri who oversaw India reaching new heights in Test cricket.

Ajinkya Rahane was at the forefront when India scrimped history in Australia earlier this year, breaching the Gabba fortress and sealing a memorable series win with an under-strength team. The stand-in captain’s hundred in Melbourne right after India’s collapse in Adelaide was a momentum-changing event in the Test series but runs have been hard to come by since that MCG Test.

Rahane’s form in the middle-order has been a concern for India in the recent past. The vice-captain has managed just 372 runs in 11 matches in 2021 at an average of less than 20. Rahane managed just only one fifty-plus score during India’s tour of England across 5 Tests, which included the World Test Championship final.

At home, Rahane’s numbers don’t inspire confidence as well. Since 2017, Rahane has averaged just 34.11, hitting 921 runs over 20 Tests.

With the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant missing the first Test, Rahane needs to step up and show the way with the bat for India. A look at Rahane’s net session doesn’t inspire much confidence. He tried an ugly hoick off Jayant Yadav’s off-break and was clean bowled. Prasidh Krishna induced an outside edge which would have been regulation catch, according to the PTI.

INDIA’S BENCH STRENGTH SET FOR STIFF TEST

Shreyas Iyer all set to make Test debut on Thursday (PTI Photo)

India have confirmed that Shreyas Iyer will make his Test debut on Thursday and it will be interesting to see if the Mumbai batter plays at No. 5 or takes up Virat Kohli’s spot in the XI. Iyer’s exploits in domestic cricket will certainly come in handy.

Meanwhile, India will have Mayank Agarwal and Shubman Gill at the top and it’s a good opportunity for both the openers to show head coach Dravid that they are good enough to keep Rohit and Rahul on their toes. Mayank had another fine outing in IPL 2021 but the Karnataka batter has struggled for form in Tests. On the other hand, Gill returns to the side after missing the England Test series due to an injury.

In the batting line-up for the first Test, only Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal have played more than 10 Tests.

R ASHWIN SET FOR TEST RETURN

Meanwhile, India have a problem of plenty in the bowling unit despite the absence of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. R Ashwin will be itching to return to the Test side after having shone in his comeback to T20I cricket. Ashwin is likely to partner with Ravindra Jadeja while India are also likely to play Axar Patel in a 3-man spin attack.

In the seam bowling department, it will be a three-way battle for 2 spots among Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and young gun Mohammed Siraj. India also have the cushion of Prasidh Krishna in the squad. On the other hand, New Zealand will not have pacer Trent Boult but Tim Southee and Neil Wagner can pose a big threat if there is early morning nip in the north of India. Left-arm spin duo of Ajaz Patel and Mitchell Santner along with off-spinner William Somerville likely to complete the spin attack for the Black Caps, who are bidding to win their first Test in India in 33 years.

India vs New Zealand, 1st Test Squad:

India: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Jayant Yadav, Srikar Bharat, Prasidh Krishna

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Latham (wk), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Tom Blundell (wk), Will Young, Glenn Phillips (wk), Daryl Mitchell, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Kyle Jamieson, William Sommerville, Ajaz Patel, Mitchell Santner, Rachin Ravindra.

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