Under-strength India seek inspiration from Gabba heroics to pose tough ‘Test’ challenge for New Zealand

India’s bench strength will be tested in the absence of big names like Rohit Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah when the hosts kick off their two-match series against World Test Championship champions New Zealand in Kanpur on Thursday.

This will be the first Test battle between the two sides since they met in the WTC final and the under-strength but talented Indian side would seek inspiration from the Gabba heroics to put on a tough challenge for the Kane Williamson-led New Zealand in Kanpur Test.

This is also going to be India’s first Test series under the guidance of the new head coach Rahul Dravid who succeeded Ravi Shastri after the T20 World Cup and has already tasted success against New Zealand during the three-match T20 series, which his team won 3-0.

Under-strength Team India rely on young guns

Rahul’s injury is expected to open up a debut opportunity for either Shreyas Iyer or Suryakumar Yadav (PII Photo)

Team India will be without regular captain and batting mainstay Virat Kohli, who decided to skip the first of the two Tests, while batter Rohit Sharma, wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, and pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami will miss both matches.

Adding to the absence of star players, India suffered another massive blow as in-form opener KL Rahul was also ruled out on Tuesday due to a left thigh muscle strain and was replaced by Suryakumar Yadav. The side will be led by Ajinkya Rahane in Kanpur with Kohli returning at the helm for the second and final contest in Mumbai from Dec. 3.

With Kohli, Rohit, and Rahul absent for the first Test in Kanpur, India will miss the experience of 179 Tests. Rahul’s injury is expected to open up a debut opportunity for either Shreyas Iyer or Suryakumar Yadav.

The Indian batting and pace bowling department would need reinforcements in the absence of key players but the hosts can breathe a sigh as their first-choice spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, and Axar Patel are available. In the absence of Pant, the experienced Wriddhiman Saha is expected to don the wicketkeeping gloves. Shubman Gill would get back in the Test side and would open with Mayank Agarwal while Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Siraj will lead India’s pace attack.

Gabba heroics inspiration

A weakened Indian side scripted history at the Gabba earlier this year (AP Photo)

Not to forget, just 10 months back an under-strength, injury-stricken Indian team under Ajinkya Rahane pulled off a historic and era-defining win at Gabba (Australia’s fortress till then). The Indian team fought fire with fire, carried the calm and composed aura of their stand-in captain.

Only 2 India players played all 4 Tests. Their playing XI for the first and last Test looked drastically different. They didn’t have their best batsman. For the series decider, they didn’t even have one member of their first-choice bowling attack. They were battered, bruised but not beaten.

The problems got bigger and bigger for India as they were without even one of their frontline bowlers for the fourth and final Test at the Gabba, where Australia hadn’t lost a Test since 1988. India’s bowling attack had combined experience of 4 Test matches — in fact, 3 Tests and 10 deliveries as Shardul Thakur, who returned to the XI 2 years after making his Test debut in 2018. Mohammed Siraj, who made his Test debut a few weeks ago in Melbourne is the leader of the Indian bowling attack in Brisbane.

India handed Test debuts to T Natarajan and all-rounder Washington Sundar, who replaced Ravindra Jadeja. Navdeep Saini retained his place after an impressive debut in Sydney. However, Rahane’s men breached the Gabba fortress, sealing an emphatic win after chasing down 329 on the final day. Australia lost the series 2-1 as India won their second successive series on Australian soil.

After winning the series in Australia, India returned home to a hero’s welcome. They lost the first of a 4-Test series against England at home but bounced back to win the series 3-1 and book a place in the final of the World Test Championship.

India’s amazing home Test record

Team India are a formidable Test match outfit at home, having been beaten just once in their own country since March 2017, underlining the scale of the achievement should New Zealand manage to overcome them here.

Notably, the Black Caps are yet to win a Test series in India, but they will be looking to improve their record against a depleted Indian side. In the 34 Test matches played between India and New Zealand in India, the hosts have won 16 matches and lost just two, while 16 Tests ended in a draw.

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