*This post was originally published on Backward Point, in advance of New Zealand’s tour of India.
To be frank, this series is a bit of a joke. There are two Tests, required under the Future Tours Programme, and no ODIs and no warm up matches. There have also been a few T20s scheduled, because there is a World Cup coming up. Arguably though, such little weight is being given to this series that it may as well be not going ahead at all.
From an Indian perspective, why should they care about their opponents? New Zealand have spent the last few years getting steadily worse, to the point where they were recently thrashed by the West Indies. Moreover, New Zealand have a new coach, brought about by off-field troubles. There are also very few recognisable stars in this New Zealand team, only a few of them play in the IPL. The average Indian fan will look at this series as filler, given the opposition.
Much more interesting is the selections that will be made by the Indians. Dravid and Laxman have both retired after feeling they could no longer offer enough to India. That is slightly ironic in the case of Dravid, who was the only decent performer in England when India went down 4-0. Sehwag, Ghambir and Dhoni have all been out of sorts with the bat, but all have retained their spots. It goes to show the value placed on continuity by the Indian selectors. These players however are excellent at bullying weaker teams, as they recently did against the West Indies. It is highly likely they will do so again against the Kiwis.
The retirement of Laxman is particularly interesting. Many have argued he is no longer very good and that isn’t exactly an unfair assessment. However, the fact that he has retired right before this series suggests he is trying to give a younger player an easier run up into Test cricket. Laxman is famous for scoring heavily in high-pressure situations, against the very best opposition. The fact that he is so uninterested in continuing against New Zealand speaks volumes.
For the New Zealanders, this could be a tour that has already been written off by players and management. Mike Hesson has been coach for a matter of weeks, and this will be his first assignment. It would be nice to see the Black Caps win even a single match, but that is pretty unlikely. More important will be the use of these games as a warm up for the upcoming summer and the T20 World Cup. McCullum is being moved up to opening for the Test team, a clear signal that he needs to shape up or ship out.
So who are the players to watch then? This tour is one for the fringe players to star in. Pujara is likely to get another shot at Test cricket after a strong A team tour to the West Indies, and Badrinath has been named as Laxman’s replacement. Either of them could cement a spot in the Indian middle order with some strong knocks.
For the Black Caps, look out for Kane Williamson. He is very young, and undeniably very talented, but is yet to quite stamp his mark over Test cricket. Over recent tours he has started to show real signs of improvement, and a good tour in tough conditions would boost his credentials, particularly when it comes to selecting the next captain.
Overall though, if you want to see top quality Test cricket, get a time machine. You might be able to get yourself back to the start of the wonderful England v South Africa series. I hope I’m proved wrong, but this tour already feels like a disappointment.