New Zealand are in the country after a 0-4 ODI whitewash in Bangladesh, and they're not carrying a lot of confidence or numbers going into the three-Test series. Apart from the sheer weight of experience, runs and wickets that separates India from the tourists, what stands out is the ability to bat in pairs and to do so for long periods. A glimpse at the two teams' records over the past 12 months is enough to suggest a lop-sided contest.
In the past 12 months of Test cricket, India's record of batting partnerships is outstanding. Twenty times have pairings crossed 100 and eight have passed the 200-mark. Once even the 300-run threshold (Tendulkar and Vijay's 308 against Australia in Bangalore) was passed.
The bulk of these partnerships are clustered around the third, fourth and fifth wickets, which is very encouraging. That shows the strength of the middle order, and the ability to deliver on the occasion when the top order hasn't done a whole lot. The four century-plus opening stands have predictably been dominated by Sehwag. An unbeaten 259-run stand between Dhoni and Laxman, India's second best this past year, came for the seventh wicket. Sufficed to say, batting in pairs isn't a real concern for India.
Compare this to New Zealand. There are just five century-plus partnerships - three for the sixth wicket and one for the seventh. McCullum features in four of the five: 339 for the sixth wicket with Guptill (New Zealand's best stand over the last 12 months), 176 for the sixth wicket with Vettori, 164 with Vettori for the seventh wicket, and 126 for the sixth wicket with Vettori. That's three times that Vettori has had to bat deep for his team's cause. None of the top five collaborations have come from the top of the batting order. New Zealand's best opening stand was an unbeaten 90 between McIntosh and Watling against Pakistan in Napier when a result was improbable. The best for the second wicket was a paltry 50 between McIntosh and Ingram against Bangladesh in Hamilton, while the highest for the third wicket was 117 between Guptill and Taylor against Pakistan in Dunedin.
India's top ten partnerships weight in at a hefty 2374 runs as compared to New Zealand's 1357. That's a whopping 57% more.
Individually, over the past two years India are also streets ahead of New Zealand. India have scored 34 centuries as opposed to New Zealand's 13, with three double-centurions compared to Ryder's 201 against India.
I'm particularly interested in following Tendulkar against New Zealand, against whom he managed just 71 runs in four innings when they toured here seven years ago. He's got a good record against New Zealand (1,406 runs in 19 Tests at an average of more than 52) and in 2010, Tendulkar has scored 1,270 runs in nine Tests at an average of 97.69. If you want some spending money for Vegas, have a little wager on Tendulkar scoring that elusive triple century in the month of November.
India's top 10 partnerships in Tests: Nov 2009 - Nov 2010
Tendulkar & Vijay 308 vs Australia (Bangalore)
Dhoni & Laxman 259* vs South Africa (Kolkata)
Raina & Tendulkar 256 vs Sri Lanka (Colombo)
Sehwag & Tendulkar 249 vs South Africa (Kolkata)
Dravid & Sehwag 237 vs Sri Lanka (Mumbai)
Gambhir & Sehwag 233 vs Sri Lanka (Kanpur)
Dhoni & Dravid 224 vs Sri Lanka (Ahmedabad)
Dravid & Tendulkar 222* vs Bangladesh (Dhaka)
Sehwag & Vijay 221 vs Sri Lanka (Mumbai)
Sehwag & Vijay 165 vs Sri Lanka (Colombo)