Herald cricket writers David Leggat and Andrew Alderson answer three key questions ahead of the Black Caps' second test against India in Kolkata.
1) Should the Black Caps persist with three spinners?
No, but it does depend on what the team bosses' reading of the Eden Gardens pitch is. Are three spinners more of a threat than two, or better equipped to do the job? India actually left out a quality spinner in the first test at Kanpur last week, figuring, rightly, they only needed Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja, who split 16 wickets between them. Much depends on what shape late arrival Jeetan Patel is in. Three seemed to lead to an unbalanced attack. The injury-enforced absence of Jimmy Neesham doesn't help. A third seamer in place of the third spinner - either Ish Sodhi, still too short too often in Kanpur, or Patel, depending on what shape the latter is in - would be my pick.
AA: I think it remains their best option to dismiss India twice. The spin bowlers could not do that in Kanpur after the promise of the first innings, and it was disappointing to see Kane Williamson resort to part-timer Martin Guptill by the 28th over of the second because the runs pressure valve kept releasing. Mitchell Santner was the pick of the three, but Ish Sodhi has the capability to deliver spectacular results if he gets it right. It will be fascinating to watch Jeetan Patel at international level again, given his prodigious county form of recent seasons.
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2) What is the best option at the top of the order?
With coach Mike Hesson emphatically ruling out wicketkeeper BJ Watling for a promotion, it leaves Martin Guptill to have a second crack in the series. The options are either Henry Nicholls, dropped for the first test in favour of Luke Ronchi - and what an inspired move that was - Ronchi or Mitch Santner. Personally the latter two should stay where they are, where they have had success. Nicholls for Guptill would make it two lefthand openers, not ideal against offspinner Ashwin, who is likely to be on early again. The folly of not taking a third specialist opener is now being seen.
AA: Stick with the status quo for the series. Martin Guptill has been picked with a plan in mind (i.e. he plays his natural attacking game). If that doesn't work then it will be time to re-assess his position before the home summer. As coach Mike Hesson pointed out: "I don't want anyone going into a test match thinking it is their last chance saloon". However, that doesn't necessarily translate to attempting a slog-sweep from your fifth ball and getting dismissed for a duck, as occurred in the second innings at Kanpur.
3) What's the biggest plus they can take into the test from the opening defeat
A feeling that they competed well in patches of the test, but not consistently, nor long enough. They'll believe they certainly weren't outplayed from first ball to last, equally realising the far superior team won the test. So it's about keeping the focus, avoid like the plague wickets falling in clumps. They scrapped hard but the spinners were too loose in Kanpur, too often a good over spoilt by a half tracker. The best players can succumb to pressure if it's applied correctly and for long enough. India's batsmen don't like dot balls. The heat is on them to be entertainers for their adoring public. Make them work harder for them. The spinners should also take heed of their counterparts' policy - let the pitch help them by bowling slightly quicker into it more often.
AA: The growing ability of Luke Ronchi and Mitchell Santner to adapt to spin with 49-run and 102-run fifth-wicket partnerships from the first and second innings respectively in Kanpur. They staved off any turnstile effect in both digs with positive strokes and a reasonable rotation of the strike. Ronchi justified his test return, exemplified by the 72nd over of the first innings against Ravindra Jadeja. His elegance off the back foot to caress the left-arm orthodox spinner to the cover boundary demonstrated timing; soft hands to defuse a slip catch from an edge exhibited control.
Santner's second innings 71 was his highest test score and he's steadily building his subcontinental confidence.