India begin their long home season on Thursday with the first Test match against New Zealand at Hyderabad. Both teams have been badly wounded over the last year with disappointing results, and are missing some of their most reliable players over the years. The Indian middle order would have a different look as neither Dravid nor Laxman would take to the field. While Dravid retired in the aftermath of the horrific series in Australia, VVS announced his retirement just 3 days before the first test here. New Zealand will be without their talismanic left arm spinner, allorounder Daniel Vettori - the man who has been the bulwark for them.
In the absence of Dravid and Laxman the fight for the middle order spots is between Cheteshwar Pujara, Subramaniam Badrinath and Suresh Raina. Badrinath was brought into the squad as a last minute replacement for the retired Laxman. Pujara who has long been touted as Dravid's successor should walk into bat at number 3, while Raina might pip Badrinath for the number 6 spot, because of his part time offspinners. New Zealand are slated to play Jeetan Patel in place of Daniel Vettori. The offspinner has long been in Vettori's shadows and has only briefly appeared in limited over matches. Bowling to the likes of Gambhir, Sehwag, Kohli could be a big lesson for him.
While the batting has been the major headache for the Kiwis over the year, India has had issues on both the fronts. The batting failed miserably in England and Australia, while the bowlers did well in patches. Ishant Sharma makes a comeback into the side after an ankle surgery. The interesting thing though is that he has not played any practice matches to test his fitness. Ashwin has question marks against him and would be looking to impress in home conditions atleast.
Though India start off as firm favourites in the Test series, it has more to do with their familiarity with the conditions and the recent poor form of their opponents