India in line for third clean sweep in four years
Indore : The series already in their pocket and the number one ranking cemented, a dominant India go into the third Test against New Zealand here tomorrow, aiming yet another clean sweep of a Test rubber at home.
The hosts had blanked Australia 4-0 in 2012-13 and the West Indies in the next season. They nearly repeated the feat against South Africa last year and this impressive history in recent past makes India favourites in the first-ever Test being hosted by this city which has a long tradition in the game.
New Zealand, who have competed well in phases against the rampaging home team so far, have an enviable task of stopping the Virat Kohli-led side from notching up their 12th win at home from 14 encounters.
The Kiwis would hope that captain Kane Williamson, who missed the second game due to illness, regains full fitness to lead them for one last-ditch effort to score a rare victory on the Indian soil.
Williamson batted in the nets yesterday and bowling coach Shane Jurgensen said the signs were positive. Williamson is easily their most accomplished batsman to negate the twin threat of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja as he showed in the lost cause (by 197 runs) in the series opener in Kanpur, making 75 and 25.
In Williamson’s absence the Kiwis folded up without much of a fight for totals of 204 and 197 at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. His return is very important especially with the other top batsman in the ranks, Ross Taylor struggling for runs.
New Zealand spinners too have been unable to exert sustained pressure on the Indian batsmen after the new ball bowlers make early inroads and this too has had a bearing on the series.
Tom Latham and Luke Ronchi have shown the way to some extent in batting against the Indian spin-oriented attack, but others need to step up.
India would certainly miss the services of Bhuvneshwar Kumar who is out with a back injury after bowling sustained spells and grabbing a five-wicket haul in the first innings at Kolkata.
Umesh Yadav, who played in the first game, is expected to be back to lend support to the impressive Mohammed Shami who bowled well in Kolkata even when his daughter was in the ICU of a local hospital.
The commitment and skills with the old ball shown by Shami had been exemplary.
The biggest threat for the Kiwi batsmen are Ashwin, with his variety in off spin, and Jadeja, who bowls left arm spin with pin-point accuracy with subtle variations.
Kiwis, on the other hand, have depended on their pace attack led well by Trent Boult and Matt Henry who was brought in to play in Kolkata to make it a three-pronged pace attack after the visitors had gone in with a three-pronged spin formation in the series-opener.
For India in batting, Cheteshwar Pujara has been the man in form even as the the team management would be pleased with Rohit Sharma for playing a responsible knock in the second innings of the Kolkata Test.
Gautam Gambhir is also set to return to the top of the order and play in his first Test after losing his place during the England tour in 2014. It will be the third opening partner in the series for Murali Vijay who opened with KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan in the first two Tests before both went out of the squad by picking up injuries.
The turn of circumstances has offered the left handed Gambhir a golden chance to show his worth again at the highest level of the game after forcing his way in through strong shows in domestic first class matches.
The batting depth that India possess is also a major stumbling block for the Kiwi bowlers and Saha, with his back-to-back half-centuries in Kolkata, is expected to bat at number seven ahead of both Ashwin and Jadeja who also have batted with grit and determination.
The weather could play some role as it was overcast yesterday for a while when the teams practiced and it rained the previous night.
The forecast has said there is no threat of heavy rains coming in and spoiling the show although light showers have been forecast for the last two days of the game. Match hosts, Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association, are upbeat in conducting the match successfully.
“We are leaving no stone unturned to make the scheduled match a success given that the Madhya Pradesh was holding the test for the first time,” MPCA president Sanjay Jagdale said ahead of the historic maiden game in this former headquarters of the successful Holkar cricket outfit that won four Ranji Trophy titles in the 1940s and 50s.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Jeetan Patel, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, James Neesham, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner and BJ Watling.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Amit Mishra, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Jayant Yadav, Shardul Thakur and Karun Nair.
Match to start at 9.30am IST.