David Leggat and Andrew Alderson answer three questions ahead of the first test against India starting at Kanpur's Green Park tomorrow.
1: If New Zealand are to win the first test in Kanpur starting tomorrow, what's the key element they must get right?
DL: Without being silly, win the toss and bat. It's hard to overstate the importance of getting first use on a pitch which will certainly be turning big time by day three, if not earlier. Then they have to bat long. If New Zealand can't find a way to negotiate a tough Indian bowling attack, highlighted by top quality spinners, they have no chance. They need a positive mindset; there's no point putting up the shutters and trying to hang on out in the middle. Sooner or later they'll be done by a good 'un. So be assertive, but not rash. Simple, really.
AA: The spine of the batting. The top order must get big runs against spin to insure against other problems. Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor have pedigree on the sub-continent, either watching the ball off the pitch or using their feet. The onus also falls on the remainder of the top six to contribute. New Zealand lost 31 of their 40 wickets to spin in the 2-0 series loss of 2012. A decent total would give New Zealand's relatively inexperienced spinners confidence to flight the ball on a wicket set to turn. Green Park... oh, the irony.
2: Assuming the pitch at Green Park is a monty to take turn, should New Zealand take three spinners into the match or rely on just two?
DL: A tricky one. It's a bit like the old argument: why pick a fourth seamer if three can't do the job? One option is pick their best two of leggie Ish Sodhi, offspinner Mark Craig and left armer Mitch Santner and support that with some occasional contributions from Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson, who are servicable if not top drawer. Another, a real wildcard, would be to promote Craig, test average 45, to open in place of out-of-form Guptill, which would still leave room for four frontline bowlers at the bottom of the order. This mind thinks two should do.
AA: Taking three spinners in presents their best chance of victory because they cover most tweaking options. Mark Craig delivers off-spin, Mitchell Santner provides left-arm orthodox and Ish Sodhi offers leg-spin and a repertoire including googlies. If they adhere to Meatloaf Theory (two out of three ain't bad) then New Zealand's chances of securing a third test victory in 32 tests are enhanced. The last time New Zealand did this (against Pakistan in Sharjah in 2014) they won. As an added bonus, Craig, Santner and Sodhi stand to get more runs than Doug Bracewell or Matt Henry.
3: Should the tour selectors stick with out-of-sorts Guptill to open and if not, who is your choice to partner Tom Latham?
DL: My pick is they will stick with Guptill for this test. India don't have a Steyn/Philander/Rabada seam bowling axis, but they're far from slugs either. The selectors have conceded Guptill may be on his last chance. They have persevered wtih him longer than they have with other players because they believe he has the talent to succeed in tests. The question is how long is this piece of rope? If Guptill is out, then I'd opt for the gritty wicketkeeper BJ Watling, who started his international life as an opener, and have Luke Ronchi take the gloves.
AA: It seems a perennial question, but with good reason given Guptill's fluctuations in red-ball form. I would stick with him, despite his 20.68 average in Asia, just as coach Mike Hesson has given other openers every opportunity to perform in the past. Luke Ronchi put together a strong case with a practice match century, but this was apparently on a well-grassed wicket in contrast to that expected in Kanpur. However, he's in form. If Guptill doesn't deliver here, in conditions where the ball shouldn't move too much early, then Jeet Raval could be dusting off his pads for summer, otherwise it places too much regular pressure on No.3 Kane Williamson.