Blackcaps v India: Neil Wagner intent on strong start as NZ begin World Test Championship defence

Winning the World Test Championship was one thing, but the Blackcaps know they face an even tougher task, as their title defence begins this month.

After defeating India by eight wickets at Southampton to become the inaugural test champions in June, New Zealand couldn't have asked for a tougher start to their reign, with a two-test series in the subcontinent.

Kane Williamson's side can expect anything, but a warm welcome from their hosts in some of cricket's toughest conditions.

Reaching the inaugural final on the back of outstanding home form, the Blackcaps can expect spin-friendly conditions at Kanpur and Mumbai, as India seek sweet revenge on the game's No.1 side.

But even a 2-0 series loss won't detract from their achievement, insists Blackcaps fast bowler Neil Wagner.

"No-one can take it away from you," he says. "It's something that's pretty special and I'm still pretty proud of. 

"I guess the main thing for us now is to put our heads down, and try and defend it, give ourselves the best chance to play the cricket we've been playing - the brand we've been playing - and make New Zealanders proud.

"Whatever the result is, as long as we leave everything out there and give it our best, give it our all and play the way we play, the rest will take care of itself.

"Hopefully, things can unfold our way, but [I'm] pretty confident that the crew we've got here is ready to get stuck in and put their hand up.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge."

For Wagner in particular, the return to test cricket - or cricket of any kind - is a welcome one, after missing the early rounds of Plunket Shield competition, with Northern Districts' season impacted by New Zealand's COVID-19 restrictions.

And while the likes of Williamson have arrived in India from the Twenty20 World Cup, Wagner and the rest of New Zealand's test specialists are largely lacking match practice.

The first test against India on November 25 will be Wagner's first cricket of any kind since that World Test Championship final.

"Not the ideal preparation leading in, with COVID around at home, I haven't been able to play any domestic cricket leading up to it," he adds.

"It's a little frustrating, but it's one of those uncontrollable factors. For now, it's quite nice to actually hit the ground running.

"It's just about adapting to the heat, trying to stay dry as much as you can and knowing that the ball's not going to swing for very long.

"You've got to be quite tight on your lines and heavy on those lengths, be quite ruthless. The margin of error is quite small.

"It is a tough place to play, but I think everyone's looking forward to that challenge - it's called test cricket.

"It's why everyone's pretty fizzed up for that."

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