The hosts play their first Test since January while the visitors are coming off an away series
There is a reason why India should not under-estimate New Zealand going into the first Test at Uppal here on Thursday.
The last Test India figured in was in Australia in mid-January, more than seven months ago. Since then it has all been Twenty20 and ODI cricket for the Indian team.
In contrast, the Kiwis are coming off a recent Test series in the West Indies. New Zealand might be a struggling outfit but fought hard in the second Test in Jamaica and, importantly, could be in a better frame of mind for the longer format.
In contrast, India would seek to slip into Test match mode after a lengthy period of slam-bang cricket. Test cricket does make greater demands on mind and body.
Of course India, even without Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman, is a still a heavyweight when compared to this New Zealand without Daniel Vettori.
But then, the host can take nothing for granted. Surprises never cease in sport and the Kiwis have punched above their weight in the past.
In fact, when New Zealand visited India in late 2010, the first two Tests — including the second Test here at Uppal — ended in draws. It was only on a turner in Nagpur that India managed to nail the series.
In the absence of Dravid and Laxman, the focus will be on Sachin Tendulkar. The maestro will have to guide the younger bunch, provide them belief and lend shape and substance to this rather inexperienced Indian line-up.
India will also expect a solid, if not rollicking, start from the right-left opening combination of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. If Sehwag sizzles, the crowd will have its fill.
Raina may play
The indications are that India will play Cheteshhwar Pujara at No. 3 and Suresh Raina at No. 6. S. Badrinath, a good option for the side, might have to wait for a while.
M.S. Dhoni is likely to opt for a two-man attack in Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav. The experienced Zaheer is crafty but how will his body stand up to the rigours of a Test?
Yadav has air-speed, is sharp off the wicket and has this precious ability to pick up wickets in Tests. The lanky Ishant Sharma, recovering from injury concerns, is back in the squad but Yadav is likely to get the nod.
The track at Uppal should encourage the pacemen initially and then, gradually, assist the spinners. It is unlikely to develop cracks though.
R. Ashwin will spearhead the Indian spin attack. If the off-spinner experiments lesser and relies on a consistent line and bounce — his strength — he could be among big wickets.
While it would an attacking ploy to field a leg-spinner in Piyush Chawla, India is likely to enter the Test with left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha partnering Ashwin. If the surface offers turn, Ojha could be in the thick of things against the right-handers.
New Zealand, troubled by batting failures this season, will be desperate for a start from openers Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum.
Guptill is technically efficient while the flamboyant McCullum can do some damage with his flashing blade. Uppal has been a happy hunting ground for McCullum.
The left-handed Daniel Flynn should surface at No.3. Captain Ross Taylor, so brilliant on his day, needs to inspire his team at No.4.
The promising Kane Williamson is expected to come in at No.5. And the visitors could opt for a batting all-rounder in James Franklin at No. 6.
Without Vettori, New Zealand’s attack would to be pace-oriented, with offie Jeetan Patel likely to be the lone specialist spinner in the eleven.
Old warhorse Chris Martin can get the ball to seam around.
Doug Bracewell is an aggressive swing bowler while the under-rated Tim Southee operates to a similar fuller length.
Trent Boult is a promising left-armer with nip and movement.
Wednesday was rather cloudy here and if similar weather persists, the pacemen could receive some assistance.
The teams (from):
India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), V. Sehwag, G. Gambhir, C. Pujara, S. Tendulkar, V. Kohli, S. Raina, R. Ashwin, Z. Khan, U. Yadav, P. Ojha, S. Badrinath, I. Sharma, P. Chawla, A. Rahane.
New Zealand: Ross Taylor (captain), B. McCullum, M. Guptill, D. Flynn, K. Williamson, J. Franklin, K. van Wyk , T. Southee, D. Bracewell, J. Patel, C. Martin, T. Boult, B.J. Watling, T. Nethula, N. Wagner.
Play starts at 9.30 a.m.