1st Test: India begin life after Dravid, Laxman
HYDERABAD: India were gearing for life without retired batting stars Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman as they begin a two-Test series against New Zealand in Hyderabad on Thursday. Dravid bid farewell in March and Laxman called it quits last Saturday, leaving Sachin Tendulkar the only surviving veteran of the golden generation of Indian batsman that included Sourav Ganguly. The main task for India in the busy home season that also features four Tests each against England and Australia is to find replacements for Dravid and Laxman, who had a combined tally of 22,069 Test runs in 298 matches.
The batsmen in contention for the two vacant slots, Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina and Subramaniam Badrinath, have a combined tally of just 20 Tests. Ajinkya Rahane has yet to debut in the five-day game. India will also miss Dravid and Laxman in the slips. Both were gifted with safe hands with Dravid taking a Test record 210 catches and Laxman 135.
"It will be tough to replace Rahul and Laxman not only as batsmen, but also as slip catchers," Tendulkar said ahead of the first Test.
"They were great in that region and to replace them we are going to need someone to be there for an equally long period of time."
The series against eighth-ranked New Zealand provides the hosts an opportunity to return to winning ways ahead of tougher assignments against England and Australia. India lost much of their reputation in the past 12 months -- and the number one ranking -- when they crashed to eight successive overseas Test defeats, four each in England and Australia. But they remain a force at home because conditions are not as seamer-friendly as in England or Australia and spinners usually call the shots on low, slow pitches.
India will be delighted that New Zealand are without their match-winning spinner Daniel Vettori for the two Tests due to an injury. The Black Caps need to regroup and put in an improved showing to avoid a second successive Test series defeat, having recently lost both Tests in the West Indies.
"We didn't play as well as we would have liked (in the West Indies)," Kiwi skipper Ross Taylor said. "India is a familiar place for our batsmen. We have played well here and we are looking forward to this series.
"It is a huge challenge to face the Indians on their home grounds. They are a very tough side in home conditions. We need to have plans in place to counter all possible challenges."
India have the resources to start the season on a winning note, with openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, and middle-order batsmen Tendulkar and Virat Kohli all capable of putting pressure on the opposition.
Tendulkar, the world's leading scorer in both Tests and one-dayers with an unprecedented 100 international centuries, was in April nominated to the upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, for his contribution to the nation.
In-form Kohli, who has played only eight Tests, has been growing in confidence since hammering his maiden Test century against Australia at Adelaide this January.
India have effective spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha to test the touring batsmen, the duo having played major roles in their team's victory in the last home series against the West Indies in November, 2011.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Capt.), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Subramaniam Badrinath, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha, Umesh Yadav, Ajinkya Rahane, Piyush Chawla, Ishant Sharma, Suresh Raina.
New Zealand: Ross Taylor (Capt.), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Daniel Flynn, James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Chris Martin, Brendon McCullum, Tarun Nethula, Jeetan Patel, Tim Southee, Kruger van Wyk, Neil Wagner, Bradley-John Watling, Kane Williamson.