Having come through their landmark game at Kanpur in flying colours, a confident Indian team will be looking to cross another milestone successfully in the second Test starting here at the Eden Gardens on Friday.
When India take the field against a smarting New Zealand, they will be playing their 250th Test match at home just days after competing in their 500th Test. A win against the Kiwis would not only help India take an unassailable 2-0 lead, they would also snatch the No 1 ranking from Pakistan.
“I don't get motivated by records,” remarked skipper Virat Kohli tersely on Thursday. “If you notice the cricket we played two years ago in Tests and now, it’s easy to get carried away by these records. You’ll end up losing focus on the process. Personally, I don't think about these things. My goal is to play cricket at a certain level and maintain it. No 1 doesn't matter for us because they are temporary. If you get attached to these things then you get upset if you are not able to do it.”
While Kohli may deny the long-term goal of the team, reaching the summit of the Test rankings would be the perfect way to continue a marathon home journey that would see the team play another 12 Test matches, including the Eden affair. And India appear in perfect shape to scale the peak.
In the opening Test, India seemed to be in a spot of bother for the first two days as New Zealand looked good to pull off a surprise coup. The Kiwis had dismissed India for 318 and then rode to 152/1, setting themselves the perfect launchpad.
However, things changed dramatically over the next three days as off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and his left-arm partner Ravindra Jadeja found their range in destructive fashion. While Ashwin outsmarted the Kiwis with his guile and craft, Jadeja tormented them with his exceptional accuracy as India eventually galloped to a 197-run victory.
The two spinners, so crucial for India this season where the visiting teams are expected to be fed on a rich diet of spin, are slowly settling into a formidable partnership. They combined brilliantly in the four Tests against South Africa last year and will be potent yet again come Friday although Ashwin didn’t bowl a single ball during Thursday’s practice. The Tamil Nadu offie, stumped by a corn on the middle finger of his bowling hand, bowled with pain in the opening Test but Kohli said his premier bowler is feeling “perfectly fine”.
Batting wise, India have some concerns and they would need to exercise better discipline against a dangerous New Zealand side. A few of them were guilty of throwing away their wickets in the first innings while seemingly set and a repeat offence may not go unpunished.
From the looks of it, India may not make too many changes to the side that played the opening game. It will be interesting to see if the team management hands Gautam Gambhir — replacement for injured KL Rahul — a recall or pick out-of-form Shikhar Dhawan.
A brand new strip has been laid for this Test and with it bearing signs of a typical Kolkata wicket — aiding batting initially and then proving helpful for spinners later on — Kohli could be tempted to go back to his five-bowler ploy. In such a scenario Rohit Sharma could be the fall guy.
New Zealand, hit by a spate of injuries on a tour that’s just two weeks old, could be dealt the severest of blows if skipper Kane Williamson fails to recover in time for Friday. The in-form leader didn't turn up for practice on Thursday after being bitten by a bug and the Kiwis will be hoping it isn't too bad.
The Kiwis will also have to show more application and concentration if they desire to push the Indians. A couple of bad sessions cost them the Kanpur Test, something they’ll hope not to repeat at Kolkata.
One eye will be on the weather. Although it hasn’t rained for the last couple of days, it’s been muggy and wet weather has been predicted for the weekend. One hopes the skies don’t open up and curb India's march.