After almost six months, India return to playing Test cricket. They are now without Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman for the first time in almost 16 years, and have also slipped to No. 5 in the ICC Test rankings. With a crop of young and inexperienced names in the squad, there is a degree of expectancy as to how India will cope in their first series of a new season.
New Zealand are coming off a 2-0 loss to West Indies and don't have too many players in form or high on confidence. The absence of Daniel Vettori as a bowler, batsman and tactician has left the team without a central figure, and then there is the matter of several inexperienced players in the squad. That said, New Zealand have a few players with successful records against India and the team will rely heavily on them.
On the eve of the first Test in Hyderabad, here's a look at some of the players who could make a difference in the series.
Sachin Tendulkar is the only surviving member of the famed batting trio. Having finally achieved his 100th international century, the veteran batsman will be eying a few more runs to his legendary tally. With Dravid and Laxman gone and a host of young players in the squad, Tendulkar's presence will be a moral booster for the team. How he adapts to not having Dravid and Laxman immediately before and after him in the batting line-up could be a tasty subplot of the series.
Virender Sehwag failed miserably in England and Australia, but at home against New Zealand’s bowlers there is a strong chance that he roars back to form. This is, after all, a side that he averages 71.87 against in India, with two centuries and three fifties. With Daniel Vettori not around, New Zealand’s bowlers will need to curb Sehwag from the start. Can Sehwag shake off his rustiness and deliver India resounding starts like he used to?
Cheteshwar Pujara is the most likely candidate to take Dravid’s spot at No. 2. The 24-year-old from Saurashtra made his debut in 2010 against Australia, where he played a fine knock of 72 in the fourth innings to help India to victory. He batted at No.3 and became only the fifth Indian to score 50 or more in the fourth innings on debut. So far, Pujara has played three Tests and scored 107 runs at an average of almost 22. Back in the side after recovering from a knee injury sustained in IPL 4, Pujara will be the cynosure of all eyes in this series.
India’s young pace sensation Umesh Yadav was the bowling success of India’s disastrous tour to Australia, taking 14 wickets and impressing with his pace and energy. His accuracy is a matter of concern, but in familiar conditions and up against a batting line-up low on confidence there is every chance that Yadav reaps wickets to become India’s bowling spearhead.
A good athlete with a nice smooth accelerating run-up, he has the ability to swing the bowl both ways.
After a poor show against West Indies, New Zealand skipper Ross Taylor will be eager to bury the ghost of that terrible tour. The most valuable batsman in the side and probably the best-equipped to tackle Indian conditions, Taylor will form the fulcrum of New Zealand’s batting. A strong tour from him will enhance his reputation. As a leader, this is Taylor’s strongest test yet.
The 23-year old Trent Boult impressed in the West Indies with his pace and movement. Though he only has 12 wickets in four Tests – he made his debut against Australia at Hobart in 2011 and claimed four wickets – the medium-fast bowler is capable of swing the bowl and has speed as an asset. He has never played in Asia, however, and how Boult copes with conditions that don’t assist his style of bowling could be crucial for his team.
In the absence of Vettori, Chris Martin will lead the pack. He bowled brilliantly the last time New Zealand visited India in 2010 and his captain will expect the same from him. He is the most experienced New Zealand bowler in the squad, as well as his country’s third-highest wicket-taker in Tests. Being dropped for the Jamaica Test not too long ago would only be the fuel Martin needs to reply strongly against India.
Brendon McCullum has played six Tests against India so far, with his highest score of 225 runs coming in Hyderabad in 2010-11. An excellent average of 60.20 against India augurs well for New Zealand, but back in the role of opener McCullum will need to curb his attacking instincts and look to bat out sessions instead. After Taylor, he is the team’s most valuable batsman.