The Indian home season is finally here, with Virat Kohli set to embark on his most difficult run of Test matches yet after taking over from MS Dhoni as captain. New Zealand are the first opponents, with the opening Test of the three-match series beginning from Thursday at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur.
This match is not only important because of it being the first of a long season, which will also see England, Australia and Bangladesh tour the country, but also due to the fact that this will be India's 500th Test match in their illustrious history. A plethora of legends, including Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid, Kapil Dev and Sourav Ganguly, are set to make their presence felt at Green Park on Thursday, and the India players, certainly, will not want to disappoint them.
In order to avoid that, picking the right team is essential, before going on and doing what every single player of the modern era loves to say, time and again: "Executing the plans."
As long as India do that consistently, this first Test and the series should be theirs to lose. They have the better bowling lineup, with R Ashwin leading the way again, while Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra will provide extremely potent backup to the offspinner.
With India expected to go with six batsmen – Rohit Sharma and Chetseshwar Pujara have been tipped to play – only Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Mohammed Shami is expected to feature in this momentous 500th Test match. That means, there is no room for error as far as the bowling is concerned, while that pressure metre gets cranked up that little bit more on the spinners, Ashwin in particular.
Great players, though, thrive under pressure, and that is precisely what the India batsmen will also want to show, particularly Kohli, who is yet to really dominate Test match cricket, like he has the other two forms of the game.
With India set to play 13 Test matches in total in this home season, Kohli has the perfect platform to turn himself into the undisputed best batsman in the world, and as limited-overs teams have found out time and again, when Kohli shines, India invariably win.
New Zealand also have a gem of a batsman in their lineup, who also happens to be their captain, much like Kohli is for India. Kane Williamson has notched runs across the world, at will, and the right-hander will be keen to make as much of an impact as possible on Indian shores as well. Williamson is the glue that holds this New Zealand batting together, so the Kiwi captain's wicket is something that India will target the most.
What this first Test could come down to, though, is New Zealand's spinners vs India's batsmen. If the home team's willow-wielders manage to negate the spin threat of Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig, New Zealand will struggle to compete. If the spinners, like they did in the World T20 match earlier this year, do manage to trouble the batsmen, then we could be in for a cliff-hanger of a Test match.
Where to Watch Live
India vs New Zealand first Test match is set to begin at 9.30am IST (4pm NZT, 5am BST, 12am ET). Live Streaming and TV information is below.
India: TV: Star Sports 1, 3, Star Sports HD1 and 3. Live Streaming: Hotstar.
New Zealand: TV: Sky Sport 3. Lie Streaming: Sky Go NZ.
UK: TV: Sky Sports 2. Live Streaming: Watch Sky Sports.
Canada, USA: TV: Willow TV. Live Streaming: Willow TV Online.
Middle East: TV: OSN Cricket. Live Streaming: OSN Cricket Live.