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India’s bench strength XI vs the Kiwis! A match or a mis-match

India is now showing the world that, for the first time, it's producing world-class cricketers directly proportional to its enormous population.

March 09, 2021 / 06:39 PM IST
During the WTC cycle, India lost just four matches and half of the matches were against one team and that is New Zealand.

During the WTC cycle, India lost just four matches and half of the matches were against one team and that is New Zealand.

India’s latest pace sensation Mohammed Siraj wasn’t even supposed to make it for the tour of Australia when the IPL 2020 begun in September last year. As India’s list of injured players started increasing by each passing week, Siraj not only toured Australia for the Test series, he also miraculously emerged out as the best bower of the series despite failing to make it to the playing XI of the first match in Adelaide.

And, yet when India took on England in Chennai in the first match of the four-match series, Siraj was out of the XI. That one case is enough to scare any opposition. It looks impossible to match India’s formidable bench strength with so many match-winners at its disposal.

While New Zealand has historically punched above their weights and made optimum use of the limited resources (specifically in terms of talent pool available) they have had, India’s now showing the world for the first time they are producing world-class cricketers directly proportional to its enormous population.

You can expect the Kiwi side to be strongly prepared for the first ever World Test Championship final which now has been switched from Lord’s in London to the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the New Zeeland fans may be startled to think that almost half of the Team India playing XI which defeated England by 3-1 may not be playing in the next match which is going to be the WTC final.

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Tom Latham and Tom Blundell were the two openers when New Zealand played its last match against Pakistan in Christchurch earlier this year. If Latham averages 42 (56 matches) then Blundell 38 (10 matches). India’s Mayank Agarwal’s 46 (14 matches) and Prithvi Shaw’s 42 (5 matches) are as good as the Kiwi openers.

Of course, the experienced duo of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor in the middle order can match India’s regular Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara in Test cricket, the likes of Henry Nicholls (average of nearly 44 in 37 matches) and BJ Watling (wicketkeeper who averages around 38) may look like just a little better options than KL Rahul (34 in 36 matches) and Wridhiman Saha (average of 29 in 38 matches).

However, in the all-rounder’s  slot Ravindra Jadeja or even Hardik Pandya are proven match-winners than the 29-year-old Daryl Mitchell (has played just 4 Tests). Significantly, India’s latest all-rounder Washington Sundar is potentially a better match-winner than Mitchell at this stage.

The Kiwi bowling attack of Kyle Jamieson, Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Mat Henry have pace, bounce, swing (conventional and reverse both) and awkward angles (which a quality left-arm pacer produces) which essentially covers all the bases for any surface and more so for the one which is conducive for pace bowlers.

Imagine Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah part of a bowling attack and you have a match for the Kiwi attack. For various reasons, none of the above mentioned pacers did play any of the last two Test matches against England in Ahmadabad.

However, it is the spin department where India not only has a distinct edge in R Ashwin (the regular player), they have the likes of Jadeja, Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav to choose from the bench reserves who can walk into any Test team. India, in fact, also enjoys the luxury of choosing anyone from Shahbaz Nadeem or T Natarajan in case a spinner or pacer gets injured from the non-playing squad!

Nearly a quarter of century ago, Australia unbelievably had enough world-class cricketers to fill not just one, but two international teams strong enough to beat other countries’ first XIs in One-day Internationals.

It was the 1994-95 season, and Australia was hosting the World Series Cup which was traditionally for three teams (England and Zimbabwe were other international teams), but a fourth was added for that year which was host nation’s second team—Australia A. And, that team had the likes of Damien Martyn (capt), Matthew Hayden, Darren Lehmann, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Merv Hughes, Paul Reiffel, and Tom Moody among others.

Staggeringly, it was neither England nor Zimbabwe who made it to the final of the quadrangular series, and it was fought between the two Australian teams. Of course, that is just not possible in Test cricket, however if ever a team could field simultaneously two playing XI, its Team India.

During the WTC cycle, India lost just four matches and half of the matches were against one team and that is New Zealand. And, that is the only word of caution for Kohli’s side that one can never take any Kiwi side lightly. For the record, it was Williamson’s Kiwi side which halted India’s progress in the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup.
Vimal Kumar is a senior sports journalist who has covered multiple cricket world cups and Rio Olympics in the last two decades. Vimal is also the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.

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