It's revenge time for India
Revenge will be the key word for the Indians as they launch a new cricketing season with a couple of fresh faces, seeking to settle an old score against New Zealand in the first Test of the two-match series beginning here on Wednesday.
A long break from the game has left the Indians hungry for success as they go into the home series as favourites, but captain Sourav Ganguly has warned his teammates not to be complacent against the Kiwis who are determined to record their first Test series win on Indian soil.
India's humiliating defeats on seamer-friendly tracks during their tour of New Zealand late last year has raised speculation of a tit-for-tat response from the hosts who have an impressive track record at home.
Though both captain Ganguly and coach John Wright have played down the grudge factor, they would be keen to turn the tables on New Zealand who find conquering India in their own den a tougher challenge than playing Australia.
"We did not win the series in New Zealand when we toured there last year. But we managed to beat them in the World Cup. So things are now even," Ganguly said.
But New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming is fully aware of the challeneges in store for his team in the first Test.
"We anticipate turning wickets in India. We need to apply ourselves well. It's going to be a great challenge.
The match will see opener Akash Chopra and paceman Laxmipathy Balaji making their debut for India.
The home team, which will be going in with a new pair of opening batsmen in Virender Sehwag and Chopra, has a very impressive batting line-up which could prove quite a handful for the visitors, particularly in Indian conditions.
The team boasts of the best batsman in the world in Sachin Tendulkar, who would be itching to score his 32nd Test hundred that will put him on par with Aussie skipper Steve Waugh and take him a step closer to legendary Sunil Gavaskar's world record of 34 centuries.
At one drop, the hosts have one of the most solid batsmen in contemporary cricket in Rahul Dravid, who time and again comes up with important knocks when the chips are down followed by Tendulkar in the number four position.
The skipper himself is slated to come at number five position, though he is short of a big Test score for quite some time now and this could be the ideal time for him to strike form before the bigger challenges ahead like the tour to Australia later this year.
V V S Laxman, who turned the tables on the formidable Aussies during their tour of India a couple of years ago with a majestic 281, will be playing on Wednesday leaving young Yuvraj Singh to wait for his first Test cap.
The stylish Hyderabad batsman has a lot to prove and would be raring to go all out while local lad and wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel is all set to play his first Test match on his home turf.
The hosts will go in with two spinners — leggie Anil Kumble, who needs just one more wickets to become the second Indian bowler to take 350 or more Test wickets behind former India skipper Kapil Dev, and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who was instrumental in destroying the formidable Aussie batting line-up in 2001.
The new ball attack would be shared by left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan and Balaji, who was preferred over Avishkar Salvi for his nagging accuracy and control over the ball.
Salvi, Yuvraj Singh and the second leg spinner in the side Sairaj Bahutule will cool their heels on the reserves bench.
The visitors, who will be annoucning their final XI on Wednesday, have a major problem on their hand with their frontline batsmen, including Fleming and consistent performers Nathan Astle and Scott Styris, failing cheaply in both the innings of the Rajkot three-day tie against India 'A'.
However, opening batsman Mark Richardson and all-rounder Jacob Oram, struck form slamming confidence-boosting hundreds and their coach Ashley Ross was optimistic that the other batsmen would be among runs during the Test match.
Though the other opening batsman Lou Vincent and the dangerous Craig McMillan failed in the first innings at Rajkot, they managed to hold the innings together in the second essay when the visitors were reduced to 39 for four.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Robbie Hart was quite impressive behind the wicket but proved technically inadequate while facing the only India 'A' spinner Murali Kartik in Rajkot.
The Kiwis bowling, particularly the new ball bowlers, have shown the will to bowl long spells though only Oram and Daryl Tuffey were among wickets. All-rounder Styris and part time bowler Craig McMillan have to really pull their socks up to make any impact on the Indian batsmen.
Among the spinners only left arm spinner Daniel Vettori looks like making any impact on the Indians while Paul Wiseman looked very ordinary against the India 'A' batsmen at Rajkot.
With Wiseman bowling unimpressively, the visitors might opt for a third seamer in either Michael Mason or Ian Butler.
India have so far won only two out of six Test matches played in Ahmedabad. Their only defeat here came against the West Indies while they have drew the other three matches, against Pakistan, England and New Zealand. The two wins came against South Africa and Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, Nadeem Memon, who is in charge of preparing the wickets here said "the wicket would be a sporting one."
"The first two days of the match would help the batsmen and then would turn and bounce and could assist the spinners for the remaining part of the match," he added.
The umpires for the first Test would be Rudi Koertzen of South Africa and David Shepherd of England. The third umpire is I Shivaram of India.
New Zealand (from): Stephen Fleming (capt), Nathan Astle, Ian Butler, Robbie Hart (wicketkeeper), Richard Jones, Craig McMillan, Michael Mason, Jacob Oram, Mark Richardson, Scott Styris, Daryl Tuffey, Daniel Vettori, Lou Vincent, Paul Wiseman.
India: Sourav Ganguly (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman, Akash Chopra, Parthiv Patel (wicketkeeper), Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, L Balaji.
Umpires: David Shepherd (Eng) and Rudi Koertzen (SA).
Third umpire: I Shivaram (Ind).
Fourth umpire: S K Porel (Ind).
Match refereee: Ranjan Mudugale (Sri Lanka).
Timings: 9.30 am to 11.30 am, 12.10 pm to 2.10 pm and 2.30 pm to 4.30 pm.