IND vs NZ 2021: Five key takeaways for India from the Kanpur Test

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In the end, it was a missed opportunity for India in the first Test in Kanpur. Indian bowlers toiled for deep into the fourth innings for 98 overs but painstakingly came a wicket short of winning the whole thing as bad light led to close of play on Day 5.

But the end of the bitterly close draw has also given the Indian team a chance to reflect and assess what happened over the course of the five days and plan ahead for the Mumbai Test, starting Friday (December 3).

Denied by New Zealand’s grit and resilience, as well as some good fortune on a challenging surface, India will be hoping to leave the disappointment of missing out in Kanpur behind them and come out on top in the second Test, and carry momentum with them to the tour of South Africa.

Here are the five major talking points for India after the end of the first Test

Back-up openers Mayank, Gill need technical upliftment

With Rohit Sharma resting, and KL Rahul sustaining a thigh strain, it was a great opportunity for Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal to impress the selectors. But worryingly, the two batters looked short of answers to the movement that Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson generated.

Gill looked quite good for his half-century on Day 1 but got out in both the innings in exactly the fashion he did against England earlier this year at home: failing to cover up a full-pitched ball that only slightly changed its shape and castled the stumps. In Kanpur, Jamieson was the one to get the better of Gill on both occasions.

India

Shubman Gill needs to uplift his frontfoot technique to have a long Test career for India.

Heading into the Test, there were speculations that India may try out Gill in the middle-order to see if they can maximise the output at this stage of his development at No.5 or No.6. But irrespective of where he bats, Gill will have to improve his frontfoot game against the pacers if he is to find the kind of success he is expected to get at the Test level.

As far as Mayank is concerned, his technique is still a big issue. The batter showcased a more balanced stance and backlift than he did in Australia last year. But there is still a lot of work to be done for him. In the second innings, Southee got Mayank out with his hip opening up towards the off-side, which made him play away from the body and induced the edge to the slips.

Ajinkya Rahane (and Cheteshwar Pujara) need to pull up their socks

On a challenging surface with four of their regular top 6 players missing, India would’ve hoped for runs from senior pros Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara. But they struggled and made scores of 35 & 4 and 26 & 22, respectively. Rahane was looking in great flow for his first-innings knock but then played one square cut too many for a slow, low pitch and edge the ball on the stumps. He was out LBW missing an incoming ball from left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel on Day 4.

Rahane has now gone 12 Tests, 21 innings, with an average of only 19.57 for the year with only 2 50+ scores. Since the start of 2018, he is averaging 33.94 with just 15 scores of fifty or more across 61 Test innings. He is under great pressure over his spot in the side.

Pujara is in greater health with his Test game right now but is making more uncharacteristic errors than he ever did and that is leading to lesser flow in his scoring and untimely dismissals. It’s not that Pujara has looked woefully short of form at the crease. In his own way, he managed to make great impact in wins in Australia and England. But the hundreds have dried up.

Since returning from Australia back in January 2019, Pujara has played his 23 Tests, 40 innings, without any score of 100 or more. He has made 11 fifties in this phase – which is decent, right, for a player to be making a fifty every two Tests in a bowling era – but because the hundreds have dried up, his average for this phase is just 28.61.

Shreyas Iyer makes his opportunity count, and count big

In the most unlikely Test debut made in recent memory, Shreyas Iyer showcased great patience and mental fortitude to play significant knocks of 105 and 65. Iyer top-scored for the game and looked the most comfortable player from the Indian side on a slow deck where hardly any ball come on the bat nicely.

If Virat Kohli had not rested, if Hanuma Vihari was not sent to South Africa early and if KL Rahul had not injured himself (giving India the opportunity to try out Gill at No.5). Iyer wouldn’t have played this Test. When his next Test would come is not certain. But all the backdrop mattered little as Iyer did what he had under control: scoring two tough, impactful knocks for India. Cricket will again find a way to reward him.

Axar Patel’s dream start at the Test level

It has become a touch annoying to see commentators ask him does he think Test cricket is easy? Almost every time, Axar Patel gives a generic reply to this. But you can’t fault the commentators as well. This, indeed, has been a dream start to Axar’s Test career.

4 Tests, 8 innings, 33 wickets at 11.24 per piece. 5 five-wicket hauls. In Test cricket history, only one Indian bowler – Narendra Hirwani (36 wickets at 14.61) – has taken more wickets in his first four Tests.

Axar took 4 five-fers against England earlier this year, dominating batters with his understanding of angles and indecipherable ability to mix the underarm ball. But the fifth, taken in the first-innings in Kanpur, proved that he can also bowl with great patience and control whenever required. His emergence is a blessing for his senior spin mates, both of whom are expected to do the heavy loading in the two departments while approaching the deeper side of their thirties.

Wriddhiman Saha is still relevant to Indian cricket

Heading into Day 4 in Kanpur, Wriddhiman Saha was under great pressure. Having slipped below the pecking order to the exceptional Rishabh Pant, the 37-year-old was fighting a case for his survival and relevance to the team. Saha’s shoulder injury back in January 2018 gave Pant an opening which, outside a phase in 2019, he has mostly made count and owned the spot of India’s first-choice wicketkeeper-batter last winter with decisive performances in Australia and at home versus England.

For Saha, a door of opportunity came out of the blue in 2019. But since his comeback to the side, he had gone 7 sporadic knocks collecting only 88 runs. A stiff neck meant the back-up to the back-up, KS Bharat, got a chance to showcase his glovework and that raised the prospect of Bharat being given the back-up slot permanently.

But Saha thwarted those questioning his place with an innings of great significance, making an unbeaten 61 to stretch India’s third-innings lead to 283 after walking in with his team only 152 ahead at the loss of 6 wickets.

It was reminiscent of many of his useful contributions in the period back in 2015-2017, when he replaced the great MS Dhoni and, within his limitations, made a fine effort at ensuring India’s in-transition attack isn’t missing out on wicket-taking opportunities with his excellent glovework and that he is making his presence felt with the bat whenever needed.

Saha is 37. Pant will return in South Africa. And if not rested for the Sri Lanka series that follows, he will be playing and playing every Test. So these could well be the last pair of Tests that Saha is part of. But in scoring when India needed, he has proved that there is still cricket left in him and that India can feel safe waiting before they plan for and truly integrate a new back-up wicketkeeper-batter in the set-up.



A cricket writer by heart and profession. Currently at work for CricXtasy. Previously with Circle of Cricket. You can find him on Twitter @crickashish217