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Big boots to fill as India host NZ


Nitin Chouhan,Cricketnext.com
Aug 22, 2012 at 11:33am IST

To term India blessed would be an understatement. They have Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the greatest batsman of all time, in the side for the last 22 years; they have had Sourav Ganguly, a charismatic leader who played a pivotal role in placing India on the world's cricketing map; and they have had Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, one a fortress that teams found hard to break and the other the man for a crisis.

But with Ganguly bidding adieu to international cricket in 2008 and India having found his worthy replacement in MS Dhoni, the next challenge for this Indian side in a transitional phase is to find the apt successors for Dravid and Laxman, two stalwarts who hung up their boots in the space of five months. Whether the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, and Subramaniam Badrinath claim their stake for the now-vacant middle order will be a task to be watched closely when India host New Zealand for the first of the two Tests starting in Hyderabad on Thursday.

Putting the young Indian batsmen through their paces against a recently beaten and depleted New Zealand, in the absence of Daniel Vettori, was something India would have hoped for. And that too at Uppal, a known batting paradise, is the perfect setting for the youngsters to get going.

1st Test: Big boots to fill as India host NZ

Plenty of the focus trained on the first Test in Hyderabad will be on seeing how India cope in the absence of Dravid and Laxman.

When the two sides played on this ground in 2010-11, the match ended in a draw with both teams posting good totals and Brendon McCullum scoring a double-century. The pitch is expected to favour the batsmen once again, with something for the pacers in the first hour of play each day while plenty in store for the spinners as soon as it starts getting a little rugged.

It would be surprising if Ishant Sharma gets a chance to partner Zaheer Khan ahead of Umesh Yadav, who has been impressive with his smooth bowling action and raw pace. Ishant is returning after a long injury lay-off and has done little to suggest he is match-fit. With Harbhajan Singh, the hero with the bat when the two teams met here previously, off the selectors' radar at the moment, Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha will fill the spinners' spots.

But as Tendulkar has pointed out recently in an interview, it will be foolhardy to undermine New Zealand, especially with McCullum and skipper Ross Taylor forming the core of their batting and Martin Guptill coming of age.

Pace bowling is their strength, with Chris Martin leading an attack that comprises Tim Southee, Doug Bracewell, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner. Southee has been an important part of their set up for the last few seasons while Bracewell and Boult were impressive with their pace in the series in the Caribbean recently. Asking a lot from their spinners - offspinner Jeetan Patel and left-armer Tarun Nethula - will be a little unfair as they will be playing against the Indians who are known for their dominance of the slow stuff.

Having seen the backs of both Dravid and Laxman, it's not surprising that the Kiwi camp is excited. "When we were in India last time, we had an opportunity to win a Test but Laxman and Harbhajan saved that match [at Ahmedabad] for India," McCullum said ahead of the match. "We are lucky that he [Laxman] won't be there this time around."

The series will be the first in the post-Dravid-and-Laxman era, and how India cope without them will be the focal point of this series.

Probable XIs:

India: 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Virat Kohli, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 MS Dhoni (captain), 8 Ravichandran Ashwin, 9 Pragyan Ojha, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Umesh Yadav

New Zealand: 1 Brendon McCullum, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Ross Taylor (captain), 4 Kane Williamson, 5 BJ Watling, 6 Kruger van Wyk, 7 James Franklin, 8 Tim Southee/ Doug Bracewell, 9 Jeetan Patel, 10 Tarun Nethula, 11 Chris Martin

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