India are playing a three-day practice game against a New Zealand XI at the Seddon Park in Hamilton ahead of their two-Test series against the hosts beginning on 21 February. At stumps on Day 2, India have gained an 87-run lead after bundling their opposition out for 235 (in response to the 263 that the visitors scored in the first innings) and are 59/0 in the second innings. While India's top-order failure in the first innings elicited reactions and took up a lot of column inches, there is really no need to read too much into it.
Although Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill could only contribute one run between themselves in the first innings at Seddon Park, it doesn't necessarily mean that they cannot cope with the extra swing and bounce offered in these conditions. Gill, in particular, comes into this Test series on the back of a splendid run in the India A-New Zealand A series where he has scores of 83, 204* and 136. Karnataka's Agarwal, on the other hand, has become one of India's most trusted batsmen by now after the rollicking home season he has had.
Shaw, who is coming back into the Test side after a long lay-off due to off-field issues, needs to be given some time to settle in and get going. The 20-year-old Mumbai batsman has an average of 118.50 in his two-match old Test career and that is mighty impressive.
Former Hyderabad and current Andhra captain GH Vihari had a good day out in Hamilton as he hit a composed 101 after retiring to the pavilion. Giving him company at the crease for most of the time was India's new-found overseas run-machine Cheteshwar Pujara, who also struck a timely 93. Vihari can be used as an opener if the Indian team management feel that they cannot trust either of Shaw or Gill. However, it will be a ludicrous idea to play a middle-order batsman at the top of the order especially as three openers are touring with the team.
Vihari has earlier opened for India in Australia and displayed impeccable technique and composure when challenged by the likes of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. However, he is best suited to the middle-order as that is where he can bat freely and rotate the strike with ease. One of the best examples of this was in Antigua last year when he scored his maiden Test hundred against the West Indies.
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India will be hoping that their openers can get some runs in the practice game against New Zealand XI and bring some confidence into the dressing room. Agarwal and Shaw are likely to open in the first Test and it will do them a world of good if they get runs under their belt before the Test series begins. It will ensure that India would not have to fall back to Vihari to provide them cushion.