HAMILTON // After securing their first limited-overs series victory in New Zealand, India begin their quest for a first Test series win in the country in 41 years starting tomorrow. India enters the three-Test series in confident mood after beating New Zealand 3-1 in the rain-affected five-match limited-overs series. New Zealand, who previously won two Twenty20 internationals, regained some confidence with a consolation victory in the last one-day match in Auckland on Saturday.
India's batsman, Virender Sehwag in particular, dominated New Zealand's bowlers in the one-day series played on perfect batting wickets. The reinforcement of the Indian Test squad with players such as Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman promises to make their batting line-up even more formidable. India's finest batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, is also fit to play after scoring 163 not out in the third match of the one-day series, then missing the last two matches with an abdominal strain.
New Zealand's hope is that the Test series will offer both weather and pitch conditions which will better suit its bowlers, and will cause the Indian batsmen the difficulties of adjustment which have cost them every Test series they have played in New Zealand since 1968. The pitch at Hamilton's Seddon Park, a pleasant tree-lined oval near the centre of New Zealand's fifth-largest city, has traditionally been helpful to bowlers and is likely to have more early grass-covering than the one-day pitches.
When the teams last met in the city in December 2002, as India tumbled to a hefty series defeat, both teams failed to make 100 in their first innings and New Zealand won by four wickets chasing 160. India's batting line-up, with players of the calibre of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, is understanding of New Zealand conditions. Dhoni was still reluctant to presume India's one-day success will translate to the Test arena, or admit New Zealand's win on Saturday had interrupted his team's momentum.
"Before the one-day series, I was asked the same question because of the Twenty20 defeats," Dhoni said. "As I said, it's not about what we have done. We have to start from scratch again. Nothing changes. Particularly when it comes to Test cricket, where you have to play consistent cricket over a period of time. "I don't think (the defeat) matters when it comes to the last game of a one-day series."
New Zealand's bowlers suffered some bruising to their confidence in the one-day series; from Sehwag who accumulated 299 runs at a strike rate of 150 with a top score of 125, and Tendulkar who scored an unbeaten 163 in Christchurch. The addition to their Test squad of Chris Martin, James Franklin and the uncapped Brent Arnel, who missed the limited-overs series, offers some hope those wounds will not be carried over to the Tests.
The New Zealand coach Andy Moles said his players respected India but were not intimidated by them. "We know that India are a great side. We respect them but we are not scared of them. We showed that (on Saturday)," Moles said. "We got early wickets and that put them under pressure. They make mistakes like everybody else." *AP