Wellington: India goes into the opening Test against New Zealand on Thursday with a prayer on its lips, hoping its batsmen deliver against pace on a fast pitch in cold and windy conditions.
"It's going to be a test of character for our batsmen," India skipper Saurav Ganguly conceded on Wednesday. Ganguly pinned hopes on his in-form batsmen in order to avoid a dismal start to the two-Test series, saying he expected the top six to do justice to their stature on a Basin Reserve track which would help pace more than spin. What augurs well for India is its top batsmen have been consistently performing this year, with superstar Sachin Tendulkar having scored 1,292 runs with four centuries and reliable Rahul Dravid 1,226 with five. Hard-hitting Virender Sehwag and steady Sanjay Bangar promise to end India's search for an effective and durable pair of openers as they have often made solid starts with their contrasting batting in difficult conditions. "We do have batsmen to score runs in different conditions and I hope they maintain their form on the current tour," Ganguly said. India faces a testing time despite their batsmen's excellent run, for it has never won a Test in New Zealand since 1975-76. Nor has it won a Test series outside the sub-continent since 1986. "Things are changing fast. We have won Tests in Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and the West Indies in recent times. We now hope to win a Test series here," Ganguly said. The return of left-arm fast bowler Zaheer Khan from a knee-injury has added sharpness to the attack, which looks capable of probing the New Zealand batting on the fast pitch. "We are not much concerned about the pitch, for it gives opportunity to both Indian and New Zealand bowlers to pick 20 wickets," the Indian skipper commented. "It is necessary for our fast bowlers to show discipline in these conditions. The main thing is they have to bowl the right length on this pitch. We also have a quality off spinner in Habrhajan Singh, who can turn the ball on any surface. Spin is also our strength." India, which named its 12, planned to go into the match with three full-fledged seamers, a gentle medium pacer in all-rounder Sanjay Bangar and one spinner. The toss up for the third seamers spot is likely to be between fast bowlers Ashish Nehra and Tinu Yohannan. New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming also said fast bowlers would call the shots on the green pitch. "It looks a green, seaming wicket and I expect fast bowlers to dominate, but we need to forget about it and get on with the business," said Fleming, the most successful New Zealand captain with 17 wins in 47 Tests. "We don't have any secret technique to play on green, seaming wickets, but hope to come up with a winning formula for the series." The host may be short of Test cricket, but Fleming said he believed his team had a chance to beat India in the short series. New Zealand has not played a Test since July when it triumphed 1-0 in a two-Test series in the West Indies, while India goes into the match just a month after beating the West Indies 2-0 in a three-Test home series. New Zealand (from): Stephen Fleming (captain), Mark Richardson, Lou Vincent, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan, Jacob Oram, Scott Styris, Robbie Hart, Daryl Tuffey, Shane Bond, Daniel Vettori and Michael Mason. India (from): Saurav Ganguly (captain), Sanjay Bangar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatsai Laxman, Parthiv Patel, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra and Tinu Yohannan.
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