One of cricket's sternest tests begins for New Zealand at Eden Gardens tomorrow, possibly without captain Kane Williamson.

India have won six and drawn two of their nine tests in Kolkata this century. The run began in 2001 against Australia when the John Wright-coached side completed what remains the third victory from a follow-on in 2221 tests.

The solitary loss at this modern fortress was to England in December 2012.

The incumbents look a juggernaut to stop, like trying your luck in front of a bus at a Kolkata pedestrian crossing.


To compound New Zealand's challenge, Williamson missed training due to illness. He has not been ruled out of the test.

However, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, as the second fastest test bowler to 200 wickets, and Ravindra Jadeja, whose left-arm guile has netted 77 test wickets at 23.29, remain the biggest threats for New Zealand.

The New Zealanders had few sustained answers to their deliveries in Kanpur, particularly those disguised to go on straight from orthodox finger positions to secure lbws. It's one thing to identify such subtleties in video analysis and net sessions, but another to do so in one of India's hottest cricketing cauldrons. Exceptional concentration will be required, although winning the toss and batting first to rule out significant first innings turn would help.

The batting of Luke Ronchi and Mitchell Santner is a positive to take from the first test, as is the return of Jeetan Patel to replace the injured Mark Craig. Coach Mike Hesson could not ask for a better recruit in the circumstances than the England Players' Association county player of the year.

Temperature and climate also look set to play a role. Afternoon thunderstorms are forecast across the five days, the humidity will reach dripping levels and the Black Caps must trust their fitness, rehydration and nutrition practices.

If India win, they return to the top of the test cricket rankings; New Zealand need a superlative individual or team performance to propel them back into the series.

Fortunately Eden Gardens is a venue accustomed to such inspirational moments.
The 'follow-on test' is an example. Wright devoted a chapter - 'The Greatest Comeback Since Lazarus' - to that victory in his autobiography Indian Summers. Australia were on what was termed 'The Final Frontier' tour. They reached a record 16 consecutive test victories in Mumbai, before VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid stunned them with a 376-run second innings partnership for the fifth wicket at Kolkata.

Wright wrote: "The crowd and the Indian players feed off one another, and the atmosphere builds and builds, which is why wickets tend to fall in clusters.

"Watching a new batsman making his way to the middle brings to mind the image of a lone swimmer walking out into a threatening sea... surrounded by a school of sharks."

New Zealand can use that as either motivation for what can be done against the odds, or for what they are up against.

Alastair Cook provided the perfect antidote in England's 2012 triumph. India won the toss and batted before England secured a 207-run lead. Cook's 190 came across almost five sessions with half centuries from fellow top four batsmen Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen to ensure an invincible position. They reaching the 41-run target on the final day with seven wickets to spare.

New Zealand have played two tests, both draws, at the venue. John Reid's 120 in 1955 saw them establish a first innings lead of 204. His methodology, as referenced in the Bert Sutcliffe biography 'The Last Everyday Hero', was to take "control of his fate by not allowing himself to be struck on the pads under any circumstances".

In 1965, Sutcliffe and debutant Bruce Taylor made centuries, with the latter backing up with a five-wicket bag. Sutcliffe recalled crying as he ran a single to complete his fifth and final century aged 41, only to receive "a bloody great thump between the shoulder blades" from Taylor, who screamed "you bloody beauty".

New Zealand need to find similar application across the next five days.