India prepare for life after Laxman and Dravid

RUN MACHINES: VVS Laxman (left) congratulates Rahul Dravid during their 303-run partnership against Australia at the Adelaide Oval in 2003.
RUN MACHINES: VVS Laxman (left) congratulates Rahul Dravid during their 303-run partnership against Australia at the Adelaide Oval in 2003.

India will embark on a future without batting stalwarts Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman when it plays a two-test home series against New Zealand starting Thursday.

Dravid announced his retirement in March while Laxman made a surprise announcement last week despite being named in the 15-member squad to take on the Kiwis in the series starting in Hyderabad.

The middle-order pair quit international cricket after being blamed for eight consecutive defeats in away tests against England and Australia, resulting in the team losing its No 1 ranking.

The New Zealand series will be valuable preparation for the visits of England and Australia later in the season.

England and Australia are scheduled to play four tests each on their tours, and it is left to star batsman Sachin Tendulkar to lead a new-look middle-order which will see the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina and Subramaniam Badrinath stake their claims as first-choice players.

Tendulkar, who will be playing his first international game since becoming a Member of Parliament, said the New Zealand tests can not be regarded merely as preparation for facing England and Australia.

''Every series you play, opposition strengths are different and areas to work on are different,'' Tendulkar said in an interview published in The Times of India on Monday.

Tendulkar, along with hard-hitting opener Virender Sehwag, will not only need to cover Dravid and Laxman's absence with the bat but also in the field, as Dravid (210 catches from 164 matches) and Laxman (135 from 134) were regular slip fielders.

India defeated New Zealand 1-0 in its most recent home series against the Black Caps two seasons ago, drawing the first two tests in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad before clinching the final game by an innings and 198 runs in Nagpur.

India's batting lineup failed to impress in that series and it took unlikely back-to-back centuries from bowler Harbhajan Singh in the first two tests to prevent New Zealand from causing an upset.

New Zealand will be encouraged by that performance, and also hopes to profit from the hosts' loss of it two middle-order pillars.

''They are two greats of the game. We had plans for them some months ago but no need to have those plans now,'' captain Ross Taylor said ahead of the tests.

''They can't be replaced but the batting lineup is still good.''

Brendon McCullum, who had scored a career-best 225 at Hyderabad last time and is expected to open the batting for New Zealand along with Martin Guptill, remembers the chances New Zealand had in that series.

''When we were in India last time, we had an opportunity to win a test but Laxman and Harbhajan (Singh) saved that match (at Ahmedabad) for India,'' McCullum said.

''We are lucky that he (Laxman) won't be there this time around.'' 

New Zealand may have performed well last time in India but its recent form has been poor.

On its recent tour of the West Indies, it lost both tests and was beaten 4-1 in the one-dayers.

They also go into Thursday's first test without any preparatory games on tour.

After the tests in Hyderabad (August 23-27) and Bangalore (August 31-September 4), the two teams will play two Twenty20 games in Visakhapatnam (September 8) and Chennai (September 11) ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka from next month.