India have won each of their last seven Tests, each of them by an innings or 200-plus runs. Given this, they should start the red-ball leg of their New Zealand tour at peak confidence, particularly since their opponents are coming off a 3-0 whitewash at Australia's hands. But injuries and a couple of cases of iffy form have thrown uncertainty into India's preparations. Here are the key issues they'll look to sort out over the course of their three-day warm-up game against a New Zealand XI, which begins on Friday in Hamilton.
A new opening combination
Since they began opening together, no one has scored more Test runs for India than Mayank Agarwal and Rohit Sharma, and both average in the 90s in this period. New Zealand conditions were always going to be a bigger test for both of them, but now India won't have Rohit, who's out with a calf injury.
Agarwal, meanwhile, has run into some ordinary form, picking up a pair for India A in an unofficial Test against New Zealand A in Christchurch, and following up with scores of 32, 3 and 1 in the ODI series. More than the scores, he will be concerned by the nature of his dismissals. In the second ODI in Auckland, he was caught on the crease and squared up by a Hamish Bennett delivery that didn't move all that much, and in the third ODI in Mount Maunganui, he was bowled by one that straightened past his outside edge when he played across the line to Kyle Jamieson.
Agarwal will probably still start the Test series, given the weight of his runs in India's home season, but who will partner him? Prithvi Shaw has already played two Tests and scored a century on debut, and was set to start for India on their 2018-19 Australia tour, before an injury, and then a suspension, put him out of the game for a significant spell. Shubman Gill is yet to play Test cricket, but he's made 83, 204* and 136 in his last two red-ball games for India A, in New Zealand, and averages 73.55 in first-class cricket. How well Shaw and Gill do in the warm-up match could determine who partners Agarwal in the first Test in Wellington.
Cracks in the pace machine
If all its components were fit and firing, India's pace attack would be the least of their worries going into the Test series. But Ishant Sharma won't play the warm-up match, and might miss one or both of the Tests too if his ankle injury doesn't heal in time.
Jasprit Bumrah, meanwhile, will be playing his first red-ball game since the second Test of India's tour of the West Indies in August-September 2019. He bowled like a demon on that tour, moving the ball whichever way he pleased, at high pace, in the air or off the deck, and taking 13 wickets at the ridiculous average of 9.23, including a hat-trick. Just when he seemed to be at the peak of his powers, though, he sustained a stress fracture of the back, and his displays in white-ball cricket since his return have suggested he isn't quite back at that level just yet.
Ishant and Bumrah are probably India's most important quicks away from home. Their fortunes over the next three weeks could hinge on how Bumrah copes with a red-ball workload over the next three days in Hamilton, and how Ishant performs in his fitness test in Bengaluru on Saturday. Even as India sweat over those questions, they will keep a close eye on how Umesh Yadav - who performed brilliantly in the 2019-20 home season but hasn't yet made the same kind of impression overseas - and the pacy but uncapped Navdeep Saini bowl in Hamilton.
The Jadeja-Ashwin question
In India's last overseas Test series, in the West Indies, they picked Ravindra Jadeja as their lone spinner and left out R Ashwin. As impressive as Ashwin was with the ball in the home Tests against South Africa and Bangladesh, Jadeja probably remains India's No. 1 choice, with his contributions with the bat particularly hard to ignore.
If the first-choice pace trio of Ishant, Bumrah and Mohammed Shami were all at full fitness, India may not have had any need for lengthy deliberations over their combination. But if they have to carry a fast bowler who's not quite 100% fit, they might need to think of playing five bowlers, which opens a door for Ashwin.
Another reason to ponder five bowlers is the nature of New Zealand's pitches, which, over the recent past, have tended to not deteriorate on days four and five, leading to high-scoring third and fourth innings. There will likely be help for the fast bowlers on days one and two, though, so India have two ways to think about their selection: they might look for first-innings batting solidity and pick six specialist batsmen, or look ahead to an expanded second-innings workload and pick a fifth bowler.