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August 22, 2012
Features : A surfeit of draws
News : Dhoni hopes for turn and bounce
News : Martin places emphasis on swing
News : A 'second debut' for Cheteshwar Pujara
Series/Tournaments: New Zealand tour of India
Neither team has had a happy time in Test cricket over the last year. Both India and New Zealand are in a state of flux, which makes this series more meaningful than might have been otherwise. (Between them, the two teams have lost seven of their last ten Tests.) For India's young batsmen, it's a wonderful opportunity to stake a permanent place in the middle order, instead of only being seen as replacements when the top stars are unavailable. Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina and S Badrinath will be fighting for two spots, but this series will probably be the easier part of the challenge, given that England and Australia will tour next, followed by a series in South Africa in 2013.
Meanwhile, the Indian bowling attack is searching for answers too, after poor performances in Australia and England. Ishant Sharma hasn't proved his fitness after his ankle surgery, while R Ashwin needs to show he can exercise control over long spells in conditions conducive for batting. Good performances by these players won't guarantee long-term selection, but failures in this series will seriously hurt their chances, given that stiffer challenges will follow.
New Zealand are coming off a demoralising defeat in the West Indies, and this series will be the first assignment for their new coach, Mike Hesson, who has taken over from John Wright. Several aspects of their game were disappointing in the West Indies, which means Hesson and the rest of the team management have a huge task ahead of them. The batting has been consistently patchy, with even senior players not contributing often enough.
The bowling attack, apart from Chris Martin, is inexperienced. Experts have suggested that Vettori's absence might not mean much since he hadn't taken too many wickets recently, but he would have offered New Zealand much greater control in stemming the runs against batsmen who're used to scoring quickly in familiar conditions. These will be tough conditions, and tough batsmen to bowl against for the inexperienced Jeetan Patel and Tarun Nethula, which suggests the seamers will have take greater bowling responsibilities this time around.
Watch out forBrendon McCullum returns to the ground - and the batting position - where he notched up his highest Test score of 225. Consistency hasn't been his greatest virtue, but opening the batting will give him a better chance to get his eye in against the quick bowlers, before the spinners come on to bowl, especially in the subcontinent. Compared to his overall average of 36.36, McCullum averages 45.13 when he opens the batting. If he gets a start, the Hyderabad crowd could be in for some entertainment.
Cheteshwar Pujara last played a Test match in January 2011, in Cape Town, before a knee injury sidelined him for much of the year. Since his return, he has shown form and hunger, topping the run-charts for the A team in the West Indies earlier this year. He is treating this as his second debut in Test cricket, and with places up for grabs in this Indian middle order, Pujara will want to make sure he doesn't miss out.
Pitch and conditions
Team newsWith Laxman and Dravid not around, India's middle order will have a new look, with Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara certain to play. The choice for the No.6 slot will be between Suresh Raina and S Badrinath, but given that Raina was the original choice in the squad, he should probably make the cut ahead of Badrinath; besides, Raina's off-spin will also be useful in Indian conditions. India will also have to decide between a bowling combination of three fast bowlers and a spinner, or a two-and-two combination. Given that the opposition is New Zealand, MS Dhoni might be tempted to go in with two specialist spinners.
India (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Cheteshwar Pujara, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 MS Dhoni (wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma/ Pragyan Ojha, 11 Umesh Yadav.
New Zealand have announced that McCullum will open the batting, which means they'll have to change their opening combination. Daniel Flynn has opened in two of their last three Tests, but could drop down to No.3 or No.5. Ross Taylor has confirmed that James Franklin will play, batting at No.6 and offering a fourth-seamer option. It's unlikely they'll play more than one specialist spinner, and Patel, the offspinner, will probably be preferred over the uncapped legspinner, Nethula. Whichever one plays, he'll have a tough job trying to replicate the control that Vettori would have achieved had he been in the team.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor (capt), 5 Daniel Flynn, 6 James Franklin, 7 Kruger van Wyk (wk), 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Jeetan Patel/ Tarun Nethula, 11 Chris Martin.
Stats and trivia
"We have Virat, Raina and we already have Sehwag there, he will most likely stand in the first slip. I don't think we will be short of fielders who field at slips."
MS Dhoni, the Indian captain, suggests slip-catching won't be an issue in the absence of Dravid and Laxman
"It [the pitch] had reasonable carry, enough bounce for us to challenge the edge. And it has been humid. The ball has swung [in the nets], and I think it is a better one than the ball we used in the West Indies that tended to not swing for very long."
Chris Martin makes a case for swing bowling in Hyderabad
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on TwitterFeeds: S Rajesh
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