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Cricket news - Will the Kohli era ignore The Tiaki Promise?

For once, India start a Test series in New Zealand looking better-placed to win here than they probably ever have

For once, India start a Test series in New Zealand looking better-placed to win here than they probably ever have

The Tiaki Promise is plastered all around New Zealand, from the back of walls in pubs to hotel lobbies. It's the unofficial pledge you take as a visitor to this breathtaking country for its welfare. The Promise is part of your commitment to respect and protect the land of Aotearoa which has opened its doors and its heart to you. It entrusts you with "caring for the land, treading lightly and leaving no trace".

And funnily enough, the Indian cricket team has tread lightly and not left much of a trace over the last two decades in New Zealand. To start with, the Black Caps haven't been their preferred opposition away from home for most parts of this century, having made only three Test trips this century. Compare that to five tours each to England, Australia, West Indies and South Africa when it comes to leaving the subcontinent behind. And with only a solitary win across those three trips and nine Tests, they've also ironically left not much of a trace in the most obvious way. And they've made full tours here the way you would visit a relative you like but isn't quite your priority.

But for once, they start the two-match series looking better-placed to win here than they probably ever have. For starters, they have a Test opposition who are still licking their wounds from a devastating defeat across the Tasman. But then India have also come here with arguably their strongest pace attack ever and a batting line-up, which despite an inexperienced top-order, looks to be from the top-draw.

India's past three tours in this epoch have also come at interesting stages of their history. In 2002, when the Ganguly era was still in a fledgling state. In 2009, when the Dhoni era was just kicking off and in 2014 when the Tendulkar era had just ended. But here they are with the Kohli era having established some sort of aura home and away and with a majority of their players primed and ready for the challenge of playing New Zealand in New Zealand.

Already on a number of occasions, Virat Kohli has spoken about how different New Zealand are as opponents, especially in their own backyard. The genuine niceness aside, they are also a team against whom every aspect of their rivalry is on-field related, and that too in a very cricketing sense. So the fact that India don't have to face Neil Wagner in the opening Test at the Basin Reserve, isn't so much about New Zealand losing their fieriness or their bite, but about them having to do without the spoke of the their bowling wheel.

New Zealand does bring its unique challenges, from the openness of the Test venues, to the lack of aural ambience, the stodgy pitches and of course a home team that thrives on playing the long game. And in Wellington, there's of course the wind factor that completely adds a new dimension to how you plan and play a game of Test cricket. It's here that India stumbled five years ago in not being able to overcome the Kiwis' ability to stretch the game till the very end. But it's here in Wellington that India might sense their best chance to get one over the Kiwis first up and then press on for a series win, not to forget crucial Test World Championship points to consolidate their position on top.

When: New Zealand v India, 1st Test, February 21-25, 11.30 am Local, 04.00 am IST

Where: Basin Reserve, Wellington

What to expect: There are few cities in the world that look equally sensational from the top as they do from sea-level. In fact, there are few angles from which Wellington doesn't steal the show. Whether it's after you've driven up to the Mt. Victoria summit and are looking down on the awe-inspiring mix of mountains and water, straight from the storybooks. Or if you've parked on the side of the road underneath the Wellington sign - which is designed like the one in Hollywood but with the 'ton' slightly awry to signify the impact of wind on all things Wellington. Thursday was an unusually sunny affair and even some of the Kiwis have spoken about this being the warmest it's been in the lead-up to a Test here. There are some chances of rain on the first two days but it's the wind, which is expected to be rather stiff on Saturday, that could make the difference in the end. But that too depends on whether it's the warm, drying northerly or the cold, freezing southerly that hits Basin Reserve. Kane Williamson referred to the pitch carrying a colour shade he hadn't seen before, which when heard from the home captain on the eve of the Test should only make for interesting viewing.

Team News:

New Zealand: Wagner's absence, like Williamson said, will be rather tough to measure as there's nobody in the world who can be considered a replacement for him. But Kyle Jamieson does bring in his own singular quirks, starting with his towering height and the ability to produce awkward bounce. The Kiwi skipper did prefer to leave the choice between playing a secondary all-rounder in Daryl Mitchell over the solitary spinner Ajaz Patel open till he goes out to toss in Ross Taylor's 100th Test. But it's unlikely the hosts will leave out a spinner, even if Mitchell has troubled every batsman he's bowled to, both Kiwi and Indian, over the last week or so.

Playing XI: Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee, Ajaz Patel/Daryl Mitchell, Kyle Jamieson, Trent Boult.

India: The visitors seem a rather set unit with the return of Ishant Sharma, who was put through the paces for nearly 20 minutes, before he bowled a few looseners on the square, away from the nets. In there were a bunch of Indian batsmen making their final adjustments for the Basin. Mayank Agarwal for one had Ravi Shastri in his ear, explaining how the best way to deal with the moving ball here was to hold his bat with a soft bottom hand and also very close to his body so that the edge, if taken, doesn't fly into the slip region but just rolls away in that direction.

R Ashwin looks set for his first overseas Test since Adelaide in December 2018, which could be a tactical move considering the breeze and how the off-spinner is better suited to utilise it than Ravindra Jadeja. Ashwin and Jadeja had an interesting duel in the nets. After beating the left-hander with a lovely delivery that dipped and turned, the two got into an intriguing sparring battle. And a couple of times when Jadeja punched hm off the back-foot, Ashwin inquired whether he was bowling a tad too short but Jadeja clarified that it was just the bounce off the pitch that was helping him play off the backfoot. Ashwin then asked if his spin colleague thought the Kiwis would be able to do the same off a similar length before adjusting his length soon enough. It wasn't a clear sign that he would play on Friday, but not a bad one.

Probable XI: Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah.

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