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Cricket: New Zealand ponders the ‘hugeness’ of the India challenge

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KANPUR: New Zealand open their World Test Championship defense against India this week with a sense of fatigue after a long road trip and the emotional disappointment of the T20 World Cup.

Whitewashed 3-0 by India in a T20 series on the heels of their World Cup final defeat to Australia, the “Black Caps” have lost that winning feeling as they go into the first Test in Kanpur on Thursday (25 November) against a opponent out for revenge.

New Zealand may have golden memories of beating India in Southampton to claim the inaugural WTC trophy in June, but the neutral territory of the Rose Bowl could hardly seem further away.

Without pace spear Trent Boult and all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme, New Zealand will face the same adversaries where they have never won a Test series, let alone a Test, since the 1988/89 tour.

“You realize the enormity of the challenge ahead of us,” head coach Gary Stead told reporters on Tuesday.

“India is a fantastic side. They also have world-class spinners in their area here.

“(They are) one of the big challenges on the test calendar. It’s something we haven’t done in a while, we haven’t been here since 2016, but we were certainly looking forward to what lies ahead.”

New Zealand will have just two training sessions as a full squad for Thursday, with the T20 players returning to the camp on Monday after the defeat in Kolkata.

A number of players are seriously short of match fitness, including batsman Ross Taylor and pacesetter Neil Wagner.

Selectors have yet to decide who will replace batsman Devon Conway for the first test after breaking his hand hitting his bat during the World Cup.

“We were prepared as best we could in this COVID world,” Stead said.

“India is also from a T20 series … Hopefully for us they are also in a similar boat to us.”

New Zealand’s four-stage speed attack reigned supreme in the latest COVID-affected WTC cycle, but the Black Caps will not be able to fall back on their traditional strengths in Kanpur and Mumbai.

They’re hoping left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel and off-spinner Will Somerville can put pressure on India’s powerful batting lineup, with all-rounder Mitch Santner also likely to be in attendance with left-arm spin.

Stead acknowledged that New Zealand would need to manage some players cautiously after their long spell on the road, but said there was little time to dwell on things.

“In two weeks we will be on the plane home, it will go very quickly for us,” he said. “So it’s really important that we focus on the work and the challenge ahead.”

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