By Tapan Mohanta
Hyderabad: Aug 22, 2012
A reality check awaits the Indian cricket team as they begin life without the famed batting duo of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman when they take on a lowly New Zealand in the first Test of the two-match series on Thursday.
Sachin Tendulkar is the only player left of the 'Fabulous Five' brigade after Sourav Ganguly, followed by Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, and most recently, VVS Laxman bid adieu to international cricket.
Now the challenge for India is to overcome the transition phase in the upcoming home season, in which the team would play 10 Tests, 13 ODIs and three Twenty20 Internationals, apart from the ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka in September.
It is no secret that the mighty Australians are still struggling after the fading away of their cricketing greats.
Thus, India's young brigade would be keen to overcome this tough phase with the help of Tendulkar's experience before their real test starts in 2013 when they take on the current No. 1 Test side, South Africa.
Moreover, the Indian team is returning to Test action after a gap of seven months, which was preceded by two disastrous Test series.
After being drubbed 0-4 in England that stripped India off their No. 1 Test status, an identical rout followed in Australia.
The aftermath of the debacle was even more disturbing as Dravid and Laxman, the two important pillars of Indian cricket, retired ahead of the start of the new season.
Their absence would mean that India would be without the two prolific scorers, who had a total tally of 22,069 Test runs in 298 matches, almost after 16 years.
World No. 8 New Zealand, however, are excepted to give a perfect chance to India seniors to get over the England and Australia blues.
While Tendulkar is excepted to play without pressure, having achieved his 100th international century mark, Sehwag, after failing in the seaming and bouncy overseas conditions, will look to plunder the weak Kiwi attack, which is without their star spinner Daniel Vettori.
In the bowling department, Zaheer Khan will spearhead the pace attack, while Ishant Sharma, who took only five wickets in four matches in Australia, is back after an ankle surgery and his match fitness would be closely monitored.
Meanwhile, Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium strip promises to offer something for the spinners, especially after it was criticised when it last hosted the same opponents in November 2010 that saw a drab draw with Harbhajan Singh slamming an unbeaten century.
The Test also saw Brendon McCullum notch a career best 225 in the second innings, while opener Tim McIntosh was the other centurion.
But this time around, the curator assured that the ball would turn from second day onwards. And that should inspire the Indian spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Piyush Chawla.
With Harbhajan sidelined, Ashwin would look to cement his place in the Test side after making a splendid debut against the touring West Indies last season.
Often in and out of the side, Ojha would also look to fox the Kiwis with his left-arm orthodox.
It remains to be seen whether legspinner Chawla, whose selection after a poor first-class last season surprised many, gets a chance to prove himself once again.
But Indians will look to relish the home conditions and would be upbeat to take on the Black Caps, who have come here after demoralising back-to-back defeats against South Africa (0-1 at home) and the West Indies.
The Kiwis had performed well in patches in their last tour with two draws in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad before they went down in the three-match series with an innings and 198-run defeat in Nagpur.
McCullum's career best was the highlight of the tour and it will inspire the New Zealanders as he is all set to be back at the top alongside Martin Guptill.
"Martin Guptill and Brendon will open the innings.
Brendon batted well here on previous occasions and, hopefully, he will continue in the same vein in the upcoming Tests," Taylor had told media after arriving in India.
"India are always tough in their home conditions. We have to be careful about the reverse swing and the spinners. We have to learn quickly through the series," he had added.
The touring side, who would straightaway go into action without any warm-up game, also expressed confidence to adjust to the conditions with their players a regular in the IPL.
However, without veteran Vettori, their highest wicket-taker (14) in the last tour here, the visitors would have to reinvent their spin attack through offie Jeetan Patel and leggie Tarun Nethula.
In the pace department, Tim Southee, who was effective in similar conditions in West Indies where he managed to trouble Chris Gayle, would be a key to their success as he would look to do the same against the Indian batsmen.
India (probable): Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, Cheteshwar Pujara, MS Dhoni (C), Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav
New Zealand (probable): Ross Taylor (C), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Daniel Flynn, James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Chris Martin, Brendon McCullum, Tarun Nethula, Jeetan Patel, Tim Southee, Kane Williamson
Time: 04:00 GMT | 9:30 local