India embark on bumper home season with eye on top ranking
NEW DELHI: There's no place like home if you are looking to scramble back to the top of the world rankings and that appears to be India's mantra as they kick off a bumper test season against New Zealand in Kanpur on Thursday.
The world's richest cricket board has long been accused of ignoring the game's longest format, a wrong they decided to right in June by scheduling a whopping 13 tests in the 2016-17 calendar.
All of them being on home soil also dovetailed perfectly with India's ambition to regain the top test team's billing after grudgingly handing over the honour to arch-rivals Pakistan following a washed-out test in the West Indies.
New Zealand will bear the brunt of it as Kane Williamson's men prepare for a trial by spin over the next three weeks from the world's number two test team in their three-match series.
Making India the top test team was one of the key goals listed in Anil Kumble's presentation before he landed the head coach's job but the former spinner has said he is not someone who would call up the curator and order a dustbowl to achieve the target.
"No, it is the job of the curator," Kumble told ESPNcricinfo in a recent interview.
"It is a given that home conditions will favour the home team where spin is a dominant force, but not where (from) the first ball you have dust coming off."
It did exactly so when they hosted South Africa in their last home series, a four-test rubber, last year.
Ravichandran Ashwin and his spin partners wreaked havoc on raging turners and the Proteas managed to take a test into the fifth day only once, that too after a record-shattering stonewalling by Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf Du Plessis in Delhi.
"It's a tough place to play, particularly in recent years," Williamson said on his arrival in India.
"The pitches have been very tricky and you throw in world class spinners, the challenge is very tough."
Containing an Indian batting line-up, led by a versatile Virat Kohli, would be no less a headache for the tourists who are already short on bowling resources since landing here.
Paceman Tim Southee's ankle injury has robbed them of their most experienced test bowler, while all-rounder Jimmy Neeshan has been ruled out of the Kanpur contest, which will be India's 500th test match, with a rib injury.
Their batting is not in apple-pie order either, with Martin Guptill repeatedly failing to replicate his limited-overs heroics in test arena and Luke Ronchi's brisk century in the warm-up match in Delhi intensifying their selection dilemma.
Onus will be on Williamson and Ross Taylor to share their India Premier League (IPL) experience with others to help them familiarise with the conditions, which would be starkly different from what they experienced in their recent tour of South Africa.
Taylor suggested going down on bended knees against the Indian spinners, strictly literally though.
"Anytime you are playing in the sub-continent you need to be able to play the sweep shot or the cut shot," the 32-year-old said in Delhi.
"A lot of the guys are practising during training and we will talk about it with the team."