Indore: India skipper Virat Kohli will look to lead Test cricket’s new number one side to a whitewash in the series finale against New Zealand starting Saturday — and halt a rare slump in his own form in the process.
Since scoring his first Test double century against the West Indies in July, the normally prolific Kohli has failed to pass 50 in any of his subsequent seven innings and is averaging only 20 against the Black Caps.
India’s comfortable wins in the first two matches of a three-Test series have allowed them to overtake Pakistan at the top of the rankings and also divert attention away from Kohli’s downturn in form.
New Zealand’s Trent Boult dismissed the right-hander both times in the second Test in Kolkata after his strike partner Neil Wagner had softened him up the other end with a string of bouncers.
Kohli, who has been widely praised for soaking up the additional pressure since taking over from M.S. Dhoni as Test captain last year, has been playing down the concerns about his own form.
“I don’t think there is anything called form. It’s how you feel on a particular day,” the 27-year-old said in comments carried by Indian media this week ahead of the third Test at Indore’s Holkar Stadium.
“My own form? I don’t really think about these things, because cricket is a game where you prepare well but the result cannot be in your hand all the time, especially batting where you have only one chance.”
Kohli aside, India’s batting has been sound in the first two Tests but Shikhar Dhawan’s broken thumb has opened the door for a recall at the top of the order for veteran Gautam Gambhir.
The aggressive left-hander, who enjoyed a successful opening partnership with the now retired Virender Sehwag, played the last of his 56 Tests on India’s tour of England in the summer of 2014. But he has forced his way back into contention after a strong showing on the domestic circuit.
There will also be a change to the bowling line-up after medium-pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who took six wickets in Kolkata, was ruled out on Wednesday with a back strain and the uncapped Shardul Thakur drafted in as a replacement.
New Zealand are expected to welcome back skipper Kane Williamson, who missed the second Test due to a viral infection.
The Black Caps will be aiming to avoid their second successive series whitewash in India after losing the 2012 rubber 2-0.
The tourists have performed well in patches but have been guilty of failing to push home their advantage at key moments.
Senior batsman Ross Taylor, who led the team in Kolkata, said New Zealand were still keen to display their aggressive brand of cricket in the final Test.
“We’re still fizzing to go for Indore, hopefully we can play some fear-free cricket to put India under pressure,” Taylor said after the 178-run loss in Kolkata.
“We’ve tried to be aggressive, we always try and be aggressive. It didn’t work this time but we will still be aggressive in the next Test and hopefully we can get a better result.”
There had been question marks over whether the Test would go ahead following a row between the Indian board and a Supreme Court-appointed panel which has order the organisation to institute reforms.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had privately threatened to cancel the series after their accounts were allegedly frozen by the panel but they later stepped back from the brink.
The match marks the first time the Holkar Stadium, located in Indore in Madhya Pradesh state, has hosted a Test match and the pitch is expected to favour batsmen and seam bowlers.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Karun Nair, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (wicketkeeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Ravindra Jadeja, Jayant Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Jeetan Patel, Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, BJ Watling (wicketkeeper), Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Matt Henry, Jimmy Neesham, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner.