Black Caps ‘realise the enormity of the challenge ahead’
The Black Caps enter the Test series against India a little wary with players having had a mixed buildup.
Veteran batsman Ross Taylor is one of those a little cautious having not played a competitive match in over five months.
Taylor’s last test innings was against India, when he hit the winning runs as New Zealand claimed the inaugural test championship in England in June.
He wasn’t part of the T20 World Cup squad and Taylor says trying to prepare for the spin friendly pitches on the subcontinent has been a challenge.
“A bit different not having net bowlers (local Indian players) come in. So, we’ve been facing our bowlers for preparation.
“Everyone’s been lining up to face the spinners, they’ve bowled a lot of overs haha. Where normally you’ve got 10 to 15 net bowlers of spin to practice. So, slightly different but it is what it is and it’s an interesting challenge.”
New Zealand open their World Test Championship defence with an air of fatigue after a long road trip and the emotional letdown of the T20 World Cup.
Whitewashed 3-0 by India in a T20 series on the heels of their World Cup final defeat by Australia, the ‘Black Caps’ have lost that winning feeling as they head into the first test in Kanpur on Thursday against an opponent bent on revenge.
New Zealand may have golden memories of beating India in Southampton to claim the inaugural WTC trophy in June but the neutral territory of the Rose Bowl can hardly seem further away.
Without pace spearhead Trent Boult and all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme, New Zealand will face the same opponents where they have never won a test series let alone a test since the 1988/89 tour.
“You realise the enormity of the challenge ahead,” head coach Gary Stead said.
“India are a fantastic side. They’ve got world class spinners in their environment here as well.
“(They are) one of the great challenges on the test calendar. It’s something we haven’t done for a while, we haven’t been here since 2016 but we’re certainly looking forward to what’s ahead.”
New Zealand’s four-prong pace attack reigned supreme in the last COVID-affected WTC cycle but the Black Caps will be unable to fall back on their traditional strengths in Kanpur and Mumbai.
They will hope left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel and offspinner Will Somerville can pressure India’s powerful batting lineup, with all-rounder Mitch Santner also likely to be on hand with left-arm spin.
Stead acknowledged New Zealand would need to manage some players carefully after their long stint on the road but said there was little time to dwell on things.
“In two weeks we’ll be on a plane home, things will happen really quickly for us,” he said. “So it’s really important that we get focused on the job and the challenge that’s in front of us.”
Spinner Ajaz Patel believes their build-up has been as thorough as it can be given the circumstances, though he concedes they’re heading into a little bit of the unknown.
“Obviously it’s been a busy time with the T20s and stuff like that. We’ve been moving around quite a lot but at the same time we’ve had lots of time to train and acclimatise and get used to the conditions. So, hopefully we’ve got enough work done.”
The first test starts in Kanpur on Thursday afternoon and Patel said the team’s attention has turned to the match.
“Focusing in on the game and the plans and the situations we’re going to come up against. Also the surface. The biggest thing is being able to see the surface (Kanpur pitch) and get an understanding of what that is going to offer for us.
“All the preparation is done and now is the exciting part, playing cricket.”
The Black Caps bowling coach Shane Jurgensen has had a hectic year, heading to India not long after the disappointment of losing the T20 World Cup final.
He says there’s been plenty of work for the coaches, as they try to get the side ready for the two test series, which comes on the back of New Zealand’s 3-0 T20 series defeat in India.
“It’s been a big week for the support staff. As well as our T20 series here we’ve been having big days to support the test players and their preparation in the morning.
“We’ve been very busy preparing those guys and they all look in good shape. I’m excited for this series, back into test cricket again.”
“No doubt it will be a tough challenge against India in their home conditions. No doubt the wickets will turn a bit.
“For us it’s a fantastic opportunity, we’ve got an experienced group, the guys have been playing really good test cricket for a long time, we’ve know about this series and they’ve worked as hard as they can and as specifically as they can and they’re really looking forward to putting up a fight against India in their own country.”
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