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Black Caps show spunk to make series tight (Column: Just Sport)

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More than India winning the first of the 13 Tests they are to play at home in the 2016-17 series, New Zealand should get credit for dragging it into the second session on the fifth and final day at Green Park, Kanpur.

There was little doubt about India winning the match, but the question was in how many days -- four or five -- after rain chopped off 34 overs on the second day. With a bit of luck and the pluck of their batsmen, New Zealand could have easily taken the match into the third session on the final day, giving India some avoidable jitters.

Cricket is truly global now. Every team is prepared and doing well away from home. India have done well in the West Indies for the third series in succession apart from beating them in India on all their last three visits.

They have also beaten at home Australia and South Africa with ease, though they have lost to them their away series quite comprehensively. The Indians will be looking to settle a score with England in particular as they had lost 1-2 the last time they played here and then they have Australia who play Tests at Dharamsala, Ranchi and Pune after the first Test in Bengaluru. Likewise, England will be playing the first two Tests at Rajkot and Visakhapatnam before playing the last three at Mohali, Mumbai and Chennai.

After their hopeless showing against spin in Sri Lanka, the Australians will have to work hard to tackle Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra on Indian pitches. England can take confidence from their last outing, though the conditions can be quite different in a five-Test series this time.

Thanks to the mushrooming Twenty20 tournaments in the cricketing world, the game has become global and most players are playing in different conditions -- the batsmen in particular getting to bat on subcontinental pitches more.

New Zealand have prepared themselves to take on spinners defiantly and doggedly -- mixing with remarkable aggression -- as shown by Luke Ronchi, a one-day wicketkeeper playing as batsman, and Mitchell Santner, who is in the team more for his left-arm spin.

More interestingly, the Indians went into the Test with two spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja, and the Black Caps with three -- off-spinner Mark Craig, left-arm Santner and leggie Ish Sodhi when his Indian counterpart Mishra was running errands in the Indian dressing room.

Whatever might happen in the remaining two Tests at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, and in the maiden Test at Indore's Holkar Stadium, the New Zealanders have given ample demonstration of their ability to negotiate spin on turning tracks and also to pose a few questions through their own tweakers.

Just as the Indians have been bragging of late that if the pitches overseas are green tops they have bowlers to exploit the conditions, the visiting teams to India are also picking their best spinners.

The three New Zealand spinners have yet again exposed the vulnerability of the Indian batsmen against the turning ball on Indian pitches. It was left to the two Indian spinners and the ever-on-trial Rohit Sharma to bail them out in both the innings after the middle-order collapsed for the umpteenth time in recent years.

A look at the hundreds Harbhajan Singh and Ashwin got and also crucial 50s scored by Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami to rescue the team shows the immense price these bowlers are putting on their wicket.

Just as well Virat Kohli acknowledged the contribution of the bowlers with the bat and also the seriousness the team management is showing in their batting. As Kohli gracefully said, the New Zealanders showed great character and the series can really get more competitive.

Kohli and his coach Anil Kumble will be in a dilemma on the composition of the team in the next two Tests -- whether to play Mishra or keep the batting strength -- as it is after seeing how they struggled to get 300-plus scores in both the innings at Kanpur.

With Shami taking two wickets off successive balls in the second innings and Umesh Yadav, though erratic, trapping Martin Guptill with sheer pace in the first may tempt them to keep the winning combination unchanged.

Once Ishant Sharma recovers from his illness, even four bowlers can do the job in Indian conditions as both the pacemen can also share the overs with the two spinners.

But to expect Ashwin and Jadeja to bowl 60 overs between them in every innings and also chip in with the bat is demanding a bit too much of them. Both of them are complementing each other and at this rate the thinking Ashwin will race to more milestones after becoming the second fastest to get to the 200-wicket mark.

The Indian think-tank will have enough to get the right combination before they take on tougher opposition in the months to come. Maybe, some of them can be rested in the one-off Test against Bangladesh before taking on Australia in February-March next year.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at sveturi@gmail.com)

--IANS

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