3 takeaways from India's three-day practice match ahead of the Test series against New Zealand

Vihari gave a good account of himself in the first innings of the three-day game against New Zealand XI as he countered the excessive bounce.

Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammed Shami and R. Ashwin

Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammed Shami and R. Ashwin. (Photo Source: Instagram)

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Team India completed their preparations for the upcoming Test series against New Zealand with a three-day practice match against New Zealand XI, which culminated on Sunday. The Men in Blue had a decent workout with Mayank Agarwal returning to form with a whirlwind half-century in the second innings and the duo of Cheteshwar Pujara [93] and Hanuma Vihari [101] showcasing their grit in the first.

On the bowling front, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami put-on a fast bowling clinic by claiming five wickets between them, giving a huge sigh of relief to both the fans as well as the team management. So, with the preparations done and dusted, and with India now set to play their first Test against New Zealand in ‘windy’ Wellington from February 21, what are the questions facing the No.1 Test side after the culmination of the practice match?

Here’s a look at takeaways from the three-day practice match:

3. Who will open with Mayank Agarwal?

Mayank Agarwal
Mayank Agarwal. (Photo Source: Twitter)

Another overseas Test series and another familiar question confronting the Indian think-tank: Who should open with the incumbent Mayank Agarwal in the first Test at the Basin Reserve in Wellington: Prithvi Shaw or Shubman Gill or do they go with a left-field choice in Hanuma Vihari, if they are looking to play five bowlers? 

Vihari gave a good account of himself in the first innings of the three-day game against New Zealand XI as he countered the excessive bounce that the surface had to offer and scored an unbeaten 101 after the likes of Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill was bounced out by Scott Kuggeleijn.

Vihari said in an interview after the first day that he is ready to play in whatever position that the team asks him to. And, he may come into contention for the opening slot in-case India decides to play with five-bowling options.

That said, India’s decision of sending out Prithvi Shaw as an opening partner to Mayank did give us a peek into their mindset. After missing out in the first innings, Shaw played some cracking strokes in the second essay and along with Mayank, stitched a whirlwind 72-run-stand inside the first ten overs.

With Shaw opening the batting in the practice match and Shubman Gill- who had come into the match in whirlwind form- failing to make the opportunity count [0 & 8], the balance may have tilted in the favor of the Mumbaikar, as far as opening in the first Test is concerned.

Team India will be hugely relieved that Mayank Agarwal finally shrugged off his poor run-of-form when a 99-ball 81 in the second innings and they’ll hope that he carries that to the Test matches.

2. Clearly Saha will open in the first Test! Or will he?

Wriddhiman Saha
Wriddhiman Saha. (Photo Source: Twitter)

Another interesting take away from the practice game is that Rishabh Pant was handed the gloves in place of first-choice keeper Wriddhiman Saha and was prompted to the No.4 spot in the second innings. He claimed three catches and backed it up with a whirlwind 65-ball 70- an innings which included four boundaries and as many sixes.

Pant did not feature in a single home Test with Team India giving precedence to Saha’s keeping skills- especially against the spinners. Saha’ wicket-keeping was as usual outstanding but he did not enjoy the same success with the bat.

Pant, on the other hand- his struggles with the gloves notwithstanding- have had good returns with the bat in overseas conditions. India preferred him over Saha [despite the fact that he was fully fit] in their last overseas Test series- against the West Indies. So, are they once again looking to follow the same template- Saha at home and Pant in overseas conditions? We’ll wait and see.

1. Will India zero-in on five bowling options or six batsmen?

Hanuma Vihari (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The pitches in New Zealand can be pretty deceptive. It may jag around the entirety of the first day and wickets might tumble in a heap, but come day 03, 04 and 05, it tends to flatten out to the hilt. We saw that in the practice game when both teams were bowled out for under-300 on the first two days and the third day saw the Indians rack up 4-252 in a mere 48 overs.

In-fact, New Zealand is the only country in the past four years where the average first-innings score of 276 is the lowest among all Test-playing nations, which shoots up to 417 in the second innings of the Test- the highest difference in scores in all Test-playing centers.

Which begs the question– how will Team India shape their Playing XI? Will they play an extra batsman in order to counter the challenging conditions of the first two days or will they go with an attacking option of playing five fast bowlers in order to give themselves enough ammunition in the tank to bowl the Kiwis out on the pristine batting conditions, come the fourth and fifth day?

Also, if they chose the latter, who will make way for an extra bowler? Vihari? Certainly not after scoring a hundred! Or will they push him to the openers slot to make way for another bowling option? And, who will be that fast bowler? Will it be Navdeep Saini, who impressed in the practice game or will it be the vile Vidarbha Express Umesh Yadav?