|Sachin Tendulkar during a practice session, in Hyderabad,
on Wednesday. (PTI)
Hyderabad: Don’t expect to witness the usual hype surrounding a Test match or the outpouring of emotions revolving around the retirement of VVS Laxman if you are a cricket buff. More than a week after the Olympics, the city is still basking in the success of Saina Nehwal.
Posters and banners of the bronze medal-winning shuttler adorn every nook and corner and it wouldn’t surprise if any of her felicitations attracts a bigger turnout than the opening day of the Test at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, in nearby Uppal.
May be New Zealand’s poor record and the lack of big names have contributed to this lukewarm response. Even Mahendra Singh Dhoni, by his own admission, isn’t too familiar with all the players in the visitors’ XI.
For the hosts, this two-Test Airtel series, will be more about regrouping and consolidating following the disaster in Australia and the retirement of Rahul Dravid and Laxman.
A golden chance for the youngsters to cement their places in the middle-order ahead of the tougher battles that lie ahead during the next few months. How they cope with this test of character would determine what lies ahead for Indian cricket.
“One of the ways to look at it is looking ahead into the future. Definitely they are two of our great players and we will miss them on the field.
“But that’s how it is. It’s an opportunity for the youngsters to step in and take up the responsibility... We are hoping that the youngsters would grab the opportunities and do well,” said Dhoni.
If Virat Kohli’s tremendous form is a welcome relief and makes him a certainty for the No.3 slot vacated by Dravid, Cheteshwar Pujara and Suresh Raina will be closely watched for all the talk about their flair and dependency. It is unlikely that Subramaniam Badrinath will be considered ahead of the duo.
An impressive debut for Pujara meant little since he has been sidelined for much of the time thereafter with a knee injury. Having played the last of his three Tests in January 2011, in Cape Town, he will have to begin afresh and hope that his fine run on the A tour of the West Indies earlier this year comes in handy.
For all of Raina’s success in the limited-overs version, the left-hander has been found to be inconsistent in the longer format. His struggle against the moving ball has often led to his dismissal and he would be keen to make amends in familiar conditions.
The New Zealand attack — the Indians have seen very little of Doug Bracewell, Neil Wagner and Trent Boult, not to mention Tarun Nethula — certainly doesn’t possess the same penetration, sans their former captain Daniel Vettori, compared to England or Australia, but they would be keen to capitalise on the Indians’ weaknesses.
“Since the time we have been here so far, it has been cloudy. We are expecting it to swing. It swung in training and hopefully it can swing for five days as well so that we can put their batsmen under pressure,” hoped Ross Taylor.
The pitch is expected to assist the spinners though the bounce should be of help to the pacers, too.
“We are hoping there would be something for the spinners... The red soil content is more, which means the fast bowlers will get a bit of bounce. But overall it seems, the spinners will get a bit of turn as the game progresses,” felt Dhoni.
Deciding on the bowling combination could prove to be tricky for the Indians. They are likely to go in with two spinners which means Ishant Sharma’s ‘comeback’ will have to be delayed.
New Zealand’s main problem on the West Indies tour, where they lost both the Tests, had been their batting. Brendon McCullum’s presence at the top of the order is sure to provide them more solidity, given his record in the subcontinent. It was at this very ground that he had notched up his highest Test score of 225 during their last tour.
Don’t forget it is their batting that will determine whether new coach Mike Hesson has been able to make a difference to their fortunes.
India (likely): Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, CheteshwarPujara, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma/Pragyan Ojha, Umesh Yadav.
New Zealand (likely): Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Daniel Flynn, James Franklin, Kruger van Wyk, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Tarun Nethula, Chris Martin.
Umpires: Ian Gould, Steve Davis
TV: Vineet Kulkarni
Match Referee: Chris Broad
Match starts: 9.30am