As New Zealand take on England in two Tests starting with the Lord’s game on Wednesday, they will also be aware how every tactic of theirs will be scrutinised by the Indian team think-tank.
The English summer starts at the hallowed turf of the game, but the main prize to be won this season starts at Southampton on June 18 when India and New Zealand face-off in the World Test Championship final. The teams earned that right after a tough two-year process, made more challenging by the Covid-19 pandemic.
New Zealand will have the advantage of having played two Tests in English conditions when they play India. Virat Kohli’s team though will have observed all the plans New Zealand use against England.
India bowling coach, Bharat Arun, in his interview to PTI last month, expected to reap twin rewards from the preceding series. “England are playing New Zealand before us. That will give us a good insight into how New Zealand are playing in English conditions, and also how the English men are playing right now. The present form is extremely important for us to plan and the quarantine period in England would give us enough time to take into consideration all the factors and make plans accordingly.”
The India squad, which is leaving for England in a chartered flight on Wednesday, is due to play in a five-Test series after the WTC final.
Kohli’s men expect the Kiwis to field the eleven they will play in the WTC final in at least one of the Tests against England.
Coach Ravi Shastri and the India support staff proved shrewd tacticians on the Australia tour early this year, the visitors overcoming a spate of injuries and Kohli’s absence in the last three Tests to rally and win 2-1.
This time, Shastri and Co will be searching for a chink in Kane Williamson’s game. The New Zealand batting revolves around their captain. The world’s No. 1 Test batsman has scored hundreds in his last three Tests, two of them double.
But compared to previous NZ teams that heavily relied on a few stars, the current bunch has more depth. To stop them smart plans will be needed against players in every department. Most of all, India will be wary of the threat posed by pacer Kyle Jamieson.
Standing at six foot, 8 inches, all-rounder Jamieson has come in and added a fresh dimension to their bowling and batting. That NZ have won all the six Tests since Jamieson’s debut to march into the WTC final says it all.
Their run began with Jamieson’s debut at home against India. He made a telling impact by topping the batting averages (46.50, 93 runs in two innings) and taking nine wickets in the two Tests to finish with the second best bowling average (16.33).
In the next series against West Indies, he averaged 71 with the bat and took 11 wickets. Against Pakistan, he claimed 16 wickets in two Tests—
36 scalps (four 5-wicket hauls) in six Tests.
He uses his height advantage to generate extra bounce. The swing can be covered by batsmen playing close to the body, but movement with extra bounce is tough to deal as the ball hits the top half of the bat.
During IPL, India skipper Virat Kohli tried to get Jamieson to bowl to him with the Dukes ball at the Royal Challengers Bangalore nets, but the bowler smartly declined. The Indian players will be looking at how the England batsmen tackle his movement and extra bounce.
Jamieson is not the only threat. Last year, new ball bowlers Tim Southee and Trent Boult were devastating, with 14 and 11 wickets respectively. Southee will play both the England Tests. Boult is expected to join the squad for the second Test, but is unlikely to play. Along with the fiery Neil Wagner, they make a formidable pace unit.
Ross Taylor is highly experienced at No. 4, and equally experienced are ‘keeper-batsman BJ Watling and Colin de Grandhomme. Returning from ankle surgery, Grandhomme’s bowling fitness will have to be assessed. His role is to take the load off the frontline bowlers with long, tight spells. In the two Tests versus India, he bowled the most (41 overs) after Southee, Jamieson and Boult.
On the eve of the series opener, Jamieson said NZ will be better off not to think about the WTC final during the England matches.
“If you look too far ahead you will get caught on the bounce a little bit. It’s my first trip to England, my first time playing cricket in England. If I think about it (WTC final) I will get too distracted, (and) in two to three weeks’ time, I will end up not in a great shape if I don’t take care of this game.
“I am just trying to stay in the present as much as I can. I am just trying to focus on this Test, the final will arrive in a couple of weeks’ time; it’s not going to go away, or come any closer. Just looking to take care of this one first,” said Jamieson.
India will also look at any psychological blows England inflict on NZ at Lord’s and Edgbaston. Despite similar conditions to New Zealand, they have not adapted while playing in England. Heavy defeats can shake their confidence with no gap for recovery before the WTC final.
Their record versus England in England is not great. They’ve played 17 Tests at Lord’s, winning one, in 1999 under Stephen Fleming. At Edgbaston, NZ have lost all four. Overall, the Black Caps’ Test record in England is 54 played, 30 lost and 5 won, with 19 draws.
Returning to Lord’s can also open up old wounds for players who were involved in the heartbreaking 2019 World Cup final defeat to England. Coach Gary Stead is confident past record won’t have any lingering effect.
“I don’t think you ever forget those memories, and they can be a catalyst for change in the way you do things as well. But for us coming here to Lord’s, it’s always a special occasion,” Stead said.
“Speaking to some of the guys who hadn’t been here before, the happy feelings they have is something that perhaps they didn’t have to endure through that World Cup final. I know our guys are determined, and whether you win or lose at a ground we’ve probably won and lost at most grounds around the world now so it actually really doesn’t have much bearing on what will happen in this game.”
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