India prepare to start life without Dravid, Laxman
A reality check awaits the Indian cricket team as it gears up to begin life without the famed batting duo of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman when they take on a lowly New Zealand in the first Test of the two-match series in Hyderabad on Thursday.
Sachin Tendulkar is the only player left of the 'Fabulous Five' brigade after Sourav Ganguly, followed by Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, and most recently, VVS Laxman bid adieu to international cricket.
Now the challenge for India is to overcome the transition phase in the upcoming home season, in which the team would play 10 Tests, 13 ODIs and three Twenty20 Internationals, apart from the ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka in September.
It is no secret that the mighty Australians are still struggling after the fading away of their cricketing greats. Thus, India's young brigade would be keen to overcome this tough phase with the help of Tendulkar's experience before their real test starts in 2013 when they take on the current No. 1 Test side, South Africa.
Indian team is returning to Test action after seven months
Moreover, the Indian team is returning to Test action after a gap of seven months, which was preceded by two disastrous Test series.
After being drubbed 0-4 in England that stripped India off their No. 1 Test status, an identical rout followed in Australia.
The aftermath of the debacle was even more disturbing as Dravid and Laxman, the two important pillars of Indian cricket, retired ahead of the start of the new season.
Their absence would mean that India would be without the two prolific scorers, who had a total tally of 22,069 Test runs in 298 matches, almost after 16 years.
While Dravid quit in March, Laxman, who geared up for the season with rigorous training at NCA and with two centuries in local matches, surprised everybody by announcing his retirement with immediate effect, withdrawing himself from the Test squad against New Zealand just days before the start of the first match at his home ground.
There are communication loopholes in the team's think-tank
It highlighted communication loopholes in the team's think-tank, and Laxman's open admission that he could not reach his skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, only fuelled more speculation.
Without the local hero, the interest in Thursday's match is at an all time low and it remains to be seen how Dhoni's men wriggle themselves out of this situation.
Having slipped to No. 5 in less than a year's time in Test rankings, the youngsters would be keen bring the team back on track during the home stretch before next year's South Africa tour.
With stunning performances over the last few years, Virat Kohli looks set to fill in the no. 3 void, but filling no. 5 and 6 slots still remains a challenge for the team, even as Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Pujara and Subramaniam Badrinath are in contention.
The batting order has to be reworked
Pujara, who has been included in the squad after a knee surgery, looks to make the grade, while Raina after a fine performance in the limited overs series in Sri Lanka may get the captain's faith one more time to prove himself in the Test scheme of things.
The opening slot looks all set with the left-right combination of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, but youngster Ajinkya Rahane, who is yet to play a Test, may have to wait for his turn.
The absence of Dravid (a record 210 catches from 164 matches) and Laxman (135 from 134) would mean India would have to fill in the void in the slip position also. It was also evident during the net sessions of the team as special attention was given to slip catching practice.
World No. 8 New Zealand, however, are excepted to give a perfect chance to India seniors to get over the England and Australia blues.
Zaheer Khan will spearhead the pace attack
While Tendulkar is excepted to play without pressure, having achieved his 100th international century mark, Sehwag, after failing in the seaming and bouncy overseas conditions, will look to plunder the weak Kiwi attack, which is without their star spinner Daniel Vettori.
In the bowling department, Zaheer Khan will spearhead the pace attack, while Ishant Sharma, who took only five wickets in four matches in Australia, is back after an ankle surgery and his match fitness would be closely monitored.
Indians will look to relish the home conditions and would be upbeat to take on the Black Caps, who have come after demoralising back-to-back defeats against South Africa (0-1 at home) and the West Indies.