Laxman eyes Test with enthusiasm

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CRICKET / The track seems dry under bright sunshine; Sreesanth should retain his place

GETTING READY: India captain M.S. Dhoni will look to opener Virender Sehwag for a great start in the second Test against New Zealand. — Photo: K.R. Deepak
GETTING READY: India captain M.S. Dhoni will look to opener Virender Sehwag for a great start in the second Test against New Zealand. — Photo: K.R. Deepak

A gifted batsman with great values will play his maiden Test in his home city here on Friday. For a journey that began in 1996, this will be a memorable stop.

V.V.S. Laxman has conjured classics in 115 eventful Tests without figuring in one at Hyderabad. The smooth-stroker will eye the second Test with the enthusiasm of a teenager.

Will the 36-year-old charmer orchestrate another turnaround?

New Zealand's fighting display in Ahmedabad has heightened expectations here. The three-match series enters a critical phase.

Despite Laxman's heroics and Harbhajan's feisty hundred that ensured a draw at Motera, the host has a few worries.

In recent times, the Indian batting has been rather vulnerable in the second innings before being rescued by Laxman and the tail. This area will be under the team-management's scrutiny

The side seeks runs from out-of-form opener Gautam Gambhir. He does seem to have a problem with transfer of weight as he leans forward for the front-footed drive. The left-hander may have to dissect his stance and back-lift.

There could be more bounce for the pacemen at the surface here at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium. The pitch might also offer seam movement for most part of the first session.

The track seemed dry under bright sunshine and reverse swing could be a factor here. This is precisely why S. Sreesanth, who can swing the new ball and reverse the old, should retain his place in the eleven ahead of Ishant Sharma.

The host would want its spin attack to step up. Harbhajan Singh is so much the better bowler when he flights the ball to an off-stump line.

On those occasions when he imparts serious revolutions on the ball, there is dip and then bounce in his bowling.

These are days though when Harbhajan appears to be pushing the ball through quicker. Consequently, he is dropping the sphere short. The off-spinner must lure the batsmen to drive him off the front foot.

Pragyan Ojha comprehends well the surface on his home ground. An improving spinner, the left-armer is, on occasions, let down by an inconsistent line.

Spinners disappoint

Indeed, the spinners have been disappointing in the series. Following career-threatening back injuries, Daniel Vettori appears to have made a conscious decision to undercut the ball more than spin it. He is not really pivoting, that is so essential for a left-arm spinner to impart spin on the ball. By these methods, Vettori is putting less strain on his back.

The New Zealand captain, in his present avatar as a bowler, essentially relies on deliveries that straighten and the arm-ball. The biting left-arm spinner's turn away from the right-hander is missing.

The Kiwi eleven could sport a couple of changes. Left-arm pace bowling all-rounder James Franklin might come in for the injured Hamish Bennett. The lion-hearted Chris Martin requires much-needed support.

The Kiwis have the option of picking an extra seamer for either Tim McIntosh or B.J. Watling; both top-order batsmen failed to impress in the first Test. Left-armer Andy McKay, the quickest bowler in the pack, or Tim Southee could receive a look-in.

Ryder recovers

The in-form Jesse Ryder has recovered well from a muscle strain but will not bowl in the Test. After his century on debut, Kane Williamson will be the cynosure. Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor are exciting shot-makers who could influence matches.

The Kiwis, however, will be probed by crafty left-armer paceman Zaheer Khan who could find the surface here to his liking.

During his last appearance at this venue, Sachin Tendulkar made a pulse-pounding 175 against Australia in an ODI of several twists. This time around, the maestro could notch up his 50th Test century.

The teams: India (from): M.S. Dhoni (captain), V. Sehwag, G. Gambhir, R. Dravid, S. Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman, S. Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer

Khan, P. Ojha, S. Sreesanth, I. Sharma, M. Vijay, C. Pujara, A.. Mishra.

New Zealand (from): D. Vettori (captain), T. McIntosh, B. McCullum, R. Taylor, J. Ryder, K. Williamson, G. Hopkins, J. Franklin, T. Southee, C. Martin, J. Patel, M. Guptill, B. Arnel, A. McKay, B.J. Watling .

Match starts at 9.30 a.m.

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