It's common knowledge that home teams often prepare pitches that suit their strengths. Hence, it wasn't an aberration when Tim Southee advocated the preparation of bowler-friendly wickets for the upcoming Test series.
When on song, New Zealand's frontline speed merchants are capable of making any batsman dance to their tunes. But there's a flip side of the coin which shouldn't be neglected.
By dishing out a fiery green top in Wellington's series opener, wouldn't the hosts be playing into India's hands? That's because India's attack boasts of the world's premier exponents of swing bowling.
Notwithstanding the argument that Jasprit Bumrah has blown hot and cold since his international comeback, or that Navdeep Saini is relatively inexperienced to capitalize on the seaming conditions on offer, India's pace battery still remains a force to reckon with.
Their incredible display in the warm-up match proved a glowing testimonial of that. Furnishing the Indian speedsters a deck with generous assistance might well become a classic example of 'feeding the beast'.
Also see – ICC Women’s T20 world cup schedule
However, Kane Williamson's men, full of zeal after having clean swept the one-dayers, seem ready to take the gamble.
Tom Blundell and Tom Latham will bear the responsibility of countering India's fury upfront, followed by perennial sheet anchors Williamson and Ross Taylor. Just in case the big guns flounder, New Zealand's lower-middle order appears well-equipped to bail them out of choppy waters.
The Blackcaps have probably compromised on the batting front by picking specialist Ajaz Patel over Mitchell Santner. But considering the latter's inability to create a significant impact in the longer format, the reasoning behind the move is understandable.
From the bowling perspective, New Zealand have been strengthened by the return of a fit-again Trent Boult. Boult has already fired an early warning, proclaiming that he relishes dismissing Virat Kohli and would be hunting for the skipper's prized wicket.
Young sensation Kyle Jaimeson has been duly rewarded for his phenomenal white-ball credentials with a berth in New Zealand's squad. He would be hoping to replicate his limited-overs form in the purest version of the game.
Mayank Agarwal striking form has resolved India's only concern, and presently there's nothing much to separate the two outfits. Both sides look rock solid on paper and will be eagerly chasing the World Test Championship points on offer.
The purposes vary though as table-toppers India aspire to consolidate their position while New Zealand, currently placed sixth, attempt to climb up the ladder.
Rest assured, viewers across the globe will be treated to some mouth-watering cricketing action as the two heavyweights collide in a fierce battle of supremacy.
Match Details: New Zealand vs India, 1st Test
Venue: Basin Reserve, Wellington
Date & Time: Friday, February 21-25, 4:00 AM IST
What to expect: Hostile fast-bowling spells, mesmerizing strokeplay and electrifying athleticism: in a nutshell, there will be no shortage of high-octane entertainment. The ball will likely nip around in the overcast and breezy conditions, and so patience will be the key for the batsmen. That the chances of weather disruptions are negligible throughout the course of the encounter adds to the fun.
Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal are likely to open the innings as Shubman Gill has struggled to find his touch. Consequently, Hanuma Vihari should also start in the XI after his fantastic hundred in the unofficial rubber, presumably at number six.
Courtesy his impeccable glovework, Wriddhiman Saha is likely to take up the wicket-keeping duties ahead of Rishabh Pant. Keeping in mind the conditions, India might prefer going in with just one frontline spinner, and thus will have to choose between Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin. Either of Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav would join Mohammed Shami and Bumrah in the pace attack.
Probable XI: Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav / Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.
The Kiwis have very few selection headaches. Neil Wagner is deemed unavailable for the opening match due to personal reasons and Matt Henry has been called up as the provisional replacement.
Williamson will have to opt between Henry and Jamieson to fill the vacant slot. That said, Henry is the clear favorite owing to his experience as compared to the rookie quick.
Probable XI: Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling, Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee, Matt Henry / Kyle Jamieson, Ajaz Patel, Trent Boult.
What they said
"We have prepared in a manner where our fitness levels and concentration levels are such that we can compete against anyone in the world. That's the kind of confidence we will carry into this series." Kohli asserted at the pre-match press conference.