India firm favourites to avenge New Zealand record

India regroup after outplaying New Zealand in the one-day series with an even more ominous line-up for the first cricket Test starting here on Wednesday.

With Sachin Tendulkar appearing to be over a stomach strain that restricted his limited-over appearances, and the injection of fellow legends Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, this is an Indian side stacked with run-makers.

Having won the one-dayers 3-1, with Virender Sehwag slaughtering the New Zealand attack, India start as firm favourites to win their first Test series in New Zealand in 40 years.

“We’re up against it,” was New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori’s frank assessment on the eve of the first of three Tests.

Although the green tinge on the Seddon Park wicket will give the bowlers hope on the opening session the pitch should favour the batsmen for the remainder of the five days.

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni prefers to bat first but said he would wait until the toss here as the weather conditions could influence his final decision.

“If the wicket is a bit damp and it gets a bit cloudy you know that will help the seamers and that’s a toss you want to win,” he said.

Whether New Zealand bat first or second, the pressure is on their bowlers to perform if the match is to be competitive.

They will be looking for the pace in the wicket they enjoyed in Auckland on Saturday when they had their sole one-day success.

“We still want something with a bit of pace in it—that would suit us more than it would suit the Indian side—but I don’t think we’re about doctoring wickets,” Vettori said.

“We just want to push the wickets we think we can play best on and that’s something with a little bit of pace.”

However, the New Zealand attack, which is expected to be led by the recall of the experienced Chris Martin, cannot afford any loose deliveries or they will be punished.

Sehwag averages 51,06 from his 66 Tests, while around him are the veteran trio with impressive averages, and nicknames to match.

Tendulkar, known as “the little master”, averages 54,27 from 156 Tests, while Dravid—alias “The Wall”—is at 52,28 from 131 Tests and VVS “Very, Very, Special” Laxman averages 44,45 from 102 Tests.

“Experience is the major factor. If you look at the Indian top order its very impressive through their weight of games and weight of runs so we know we’re up against it,” Vettori acknowledged.

The New Zealand Test squad includes two newcomers, bowler Brent Arnel and one-day top order specialist Martin Guptill, while James Franklin and Martin have been recalled.

Left-armer Franklin is in as an all-rounder, covering for Jacob Oram, and the New Zealand camp said he is more likely to be used as a batsman than a bowler.

Of the seven Test series between New Zealand and India played in New Zealand, India won the first in 1969 while New Zealand have since won four and two have been drawn.

However, New Zealand rank a lowly eighth in Test cricket, while in-form India are third and their last two series have seen them beat England and Australia at home on the sub-continent, although Dhoni said he did not concern himself with statistics.

“We’re not bothered about what has happened because we cannot do anything about it,” he said.

“The team that comes out victorious is the one that executes their plans best so it will be important to play good consistent cricket over a period of time and not just for a day or two days.”—Sapa-AFP


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