Hamilton: A bouncy track with a good sprinkling of grass awaits India in the first Test of the three-match cricket series against New Zealand starting here on Wednesday, casting the die for a veritable war of attrition between bat and ball.
One look at the wicket would convince anyone that the Kiwis, who had the Indians in a spot of bother on a lively Eden Park deck in the last ODI at Auckland, would use swing and seam to arrest the Indian batsmen who have been on a rampage on this tour.
Though curator Karl Jackson said he would eventually shear the pitch of its "excess" grass, there should be appreciable assistance for seamers, who could be lethal if the conditions are overcast.
The conditions would demand great discipline from the Indian batsmen to collar a seam attack, spearheaded by Franklyn James, an ace at swinging the ball.
Kyle Mills, who on his day can trouble established batsmen, Iain O'Brien and either Chris Martin or new-find Brent Arnel could form the seam quartet.
The wily Daniel Vettori (286 wickets in 89 Tests) could provide fizz and turn in case the quicks fail.
However, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag have the skill and experience to quell the Kiwi attack, though they had had a deplorable tour in 2002-03, when India had mustered a series-high score of 219. Any extravagance could hurt the Kiwis as well, as they have an inexperienced batting line-up, which has yet-to-be-christened Martin Guptill.
Interestingly, Ross Taylor (14), Jesse Ryder (6), Daniel Flynn (9), Tim McIntosh (2) and Brendon McCullum (41) have played barely 72 Tests between them, half the number of matches that Tendulkar (156) has played in.
The young Kiwis would have to contend with the likes of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, who had rocked Australia and England even on docile wickets back home. If the duo, assisted by Lakshmipathy Balaji, could seam and cut the Kookaburra ball, the hosts could be vulnerable under pressure, as they were in the ODIs.
Keeping this in mind, Kiwi coach Andy Moles said, "We don't want to play on a green seamer. We want to have a good game of cricket and I am sure that is what we will get." If the Blackcaps had complained about being tormented by Sehwag, they will now have to deal with the batting might of Sachin Tendulkar (12,429 runs), Rahul Dravid (10509) and VVS Laxman (6446), who have a staggering gross aggregate of 29,384 Test runs among them.
The celebrated trio apart, India could also bank on Gautam Gambhir, who has arguably been India's best batting find in recent times, Yuvraj Singh and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni to put the runs on the board. Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Balaji too can be handy with the willow.
Given the wealth of experience and talent, self-belief and an enviable track record over the last 18 months, India begin the three-Test rubber as the favorites.
Nevertheless, they would have to perform at their best to score a Test series victory in the antipodes, their first since the Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi-inspired 3-1 triumph in 1967-68.
thatsCricket (With Inputs From Agencies)