Visakhapatnam: After simulating Indian conditions back home during their preparations, the visiting New Zealand cricket team will get a real feel of Indian tracks and weather as they launch their tour on Friday against the Board President's XI. It would be an interesting three days of cricket, only if the weather gods are kind enough, as the Board side comprise a clutch of players on the periphery of national call up. But it all depends upon the clouds coming in from the Bay of Bengal. The met men have forecast heavy rains over the next few days and the gloomy forecast have cast a shadow over the proceedings.
The Virender Sehwag-led home side, an amalgam of established cricketers and promising youngsters, several of whom turned out in the recent Challenger Tournament and Irani Trophy, looks a formidable lot. Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly's repeated pronouncements that there were a couple of places up for grabs are likely to spur on the youngsters to play their hearts out and catch the selectors' attention. Sehwag, seemingly a certainty in the Indian side for the two-Test series, missed the Challenger tournament as he was recovering from a back injury sustained during his county assignments in England.
He had a rather indifferent showing (14 and 36) in the Irani Trophy last week, and a long stint in the middle will provide the 25-year- old some vital batting practice ahead of the Ahmedabad Test. Board squad includes three openers other than Sehwag, Orissa's Test discard S S Das, Delhi's Akash Chopra and Mumbai's Wasim Jaffer. National selector Pranab Roy, who is accompanying the team as manager, may well ask one of them to come in the middle order while the third will miss a place in the final eleven to be selected on Friday.
India's top scorer in Tests, V V S Laxman, who has been in and out of the Test team of late, played a superb knock (99) in the Irani Trophy and needs to continue his good show to cement his place in the Test team. Chandigarh lad Yuvraj Singh, though being a regular in the Indian ranks in the shorter version of the game, has failed to establish himself in Test side, and needs to play a good knock in this match to come into the reckoning for a place in the Indian middle order. Wicketkeeping is another area where the national selectors have failed to zero in on any particular player. Though teenager Parthiv Patel seems slightly ahead in the race for an Ahmedabad slot. Ganguly's preference for a stumper who can contribute with the bat has raised the hopes of Haryana's Ajay Ratra and Bengal's Deep Dasgupta.