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Focus on pitch, team combination and weather as India gear up for 2nd Test

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By B. Shrikant

Mumbai, Dec 1 (IANS) The focus was on the pitch and team combination on Wednesday as India get ready for the all-important second and final Test against New Zealand at the Wankhede Stadium here from Friday. The two-Test series is tied 0-0 after New Zealand held on to a thrilling draw in the first match in Kanpur.

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Playing under stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane, India had come agonisingly close to winning the first Test, failing to capture the last wicket as the Black Caps held on to draw the match.

Though head coach Rahul Dravid and bowling coach Paras Mhambrey praised the bowling unit for its lion-hearted efforts in claiming 19 New Zealand wickets on a slow turner with low bounce provided by the Green Park curator, the Indians were expecting a lot more from the pitch.

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Their hopes now rest on the strip at Wankhede, which is expected to offer more bounce and sharper turn in the final two days.

Though the pitch is said to have ample “green” tinge on it, it is likely to be shaved off in the final preparations. But with Mumbai experiencing some rain on Wednesday and more expected in the next few days, the weather has thrown a spanner in the works.

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While the Indian team management will be keeping a close watch on the Wankhede pitch, the other issue that will be bothering it is what combination to put up in the second Test. Seasoned pacer Ishant Sharma has faced criticism over his performance in Kanpur and some experts want him to be dropped for the Wankhede Test and Mohammed Siraj given a chance instead.

Considering the pitch and weather conditions, Dravid and Kohli will also have to take a call on whether to go ahead with a three-spinner and two-pacer combination or bring in another pacer for a spinner to exploit the rain and overcast conditions that are predicted to continue well into the Test match.

With skipper Virat Kohli returning to the side after missing the T20Is and the first Test, India will have to reorganise their middle order to make way for him. Shreyas Iyer, who made his debut at Green Park, has done exceptionally well given the conditions and it is logical that he be there in the middle considering his performance and form. That means Dravid and Kohli will have to take a call on the presence of Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, both of whom are going through a lean patch recently and could not make a big score in the Kanpur Test.

The question that would be troubling the team think-tank is who should be dropped if they want to continue with both Rahane and Pujara.

Also, there are fitness issues with wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, who could not keep wickets for a major part of the first Test due to a stiff neck.

Mhambrey on Wednesday told a virtual press conference that the physio is still working on Saha and will wait for a final assessment before taking a call. In case Saha fails to recover, India will have to bring in KS Bharat, who kept wickets in the absence of Saha.

Saha has come in for praise from all quarters for his brilliant batting in the second innings despite obvious discomfort due to the stiff neck. Bharat had impressed with his wicket-keeping in Kanpur and India will have no reasons to complain on that front.

Dravid and Kohli will have to find a way out to compensate for the impact the batting order will take due to Saha’s absence. In such a scenario, they can’t afford to keep Iyer out of the playing XI.

With rain lashing Mumbai since Wednesday morning, India and New Zealand were forced to cancel their practice sessions at the Wankhede. If the rains continue on Thursday and Friday, the teams will also have to factor in the time lost due to weather into the final equation.

–IANS

bsk/akm

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