India lost ODI series 4-0     

The Indians were blanked out 0-4 in the five-game ODI series resulting in the team losing its number one status in the ICC rankings.
     
The visitors thereafter played a two-day warm-up game ahead of the Tests which ended in a draw and gave them mixed results as far as individual form of the players was concerned.
     
India need to draw series to retain No. 2 rank

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men now need at least a drawn series, if not an outright win, to retain their number two ranking in Test cricket.
     
With the exception of Pragyan Ojha (Ishwar Pandey replacing him), this is the same Test squad that lost 1-0 in South Africa before this tour.

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And after the departure of Sachin Tendulkar, with Indian cricket turning over a new page, that was a respectable result in more ways than one. India's young batsmen, untested abroad in the longer format, held their own for nine days before losing on the final day of the two-Test series.
     
Zaheer to lead Indian bowlers

The bowlers, led by the experienced Zaheer Khan, too put in a noteworthy performance, very nearly scaring the Proteas into defeat in the first Test at Johannesburg.

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That tour made for a fine marker to carry on from, except the ODI losses thereafter may have undone some of the good work.
     
This is partly because, barring Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, the Indian batting line-up bears the same look in both formats.

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And that is worrisome because only Virat Kohli and skipper Dhoni have scored any runs recently. Rohit Sharma has failed to convert his starts into anything substantial, while Ajinkya Rahane has struggled to find his footing here.
     
While the former has immense backing from the team management, the latter had a good showing in the African Tests to draw confidence from.
     
India's problems begin at top order

As always though, India's problems begin at the top of the order, wherein Shikhar Dhawan has looked ill at ease ever since he left home.
     
While most batsmen alter their styles to suit different formats, Dhawan's aggressive shot-making means that the 'brand of cricket' he plays stays the same across all formats.
     
Kohli, Pujara backbone of batting line-up

Even so, it leaves the run-scoring responsibility mainly to Kohli and Pujara, who will form the backbone of this batting line-up once again.
     
Kohli's runs in the preceding ODIs have already placed him on a high pedestal, and it is Pujara who is now the cynosure of all eyes in the build-up to this encounter.
 
The bowling combination from the Durban Test is set to be retained. Zaheer didn't go all out in the tour-game at Whangarei but looks as fit as he did in Africa, raring to lead the young bowling once again.
     
Ishwar Pandey likely to make debut

Ishwar Pandey looked ominous in that practice match, but he is very low in the pecking order. Given the team management's ever-reduced appetite for experimentation, a lot has to happen before he can upstage Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav to get a look in.

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Meanwhile, Ravindra Jadeja, who took six wickets in that Durban Test, is again expected to play ahead of R Ashwin, as Dhoni is averse to playing two spinners abroad.
     
Green pitch for first Test

Pitch curator Blair Christiansen gave a wry smile when asked about the kind of help the Eden Garden wicket will afford the slower bowlers.
     
Indeed there is a fair sprinkling of lively green grass on the strip, and when added to the rain forecast for all days of the Test, should inspire the captain who wins the toss to bowl first.
     
Rain expected

Despite the green tinge then, Black Caps' skipper Brendon McCullum hinted that Indian-born Ish Sodhi will be included in their playing eleven.
     
Like Imran Tahir in the African series, he will have target painted on his back by the Indian batsmen, especially if Tim Southee and Trent Boult get going with their tactics of mixing clever swing with short-pitched bowling.
     
Expectant-father Ross Taylor is a shoe-in to play and resume his combination with Kane Williamson. Once again then, wickets in the middle order will hold the key for India as they look to make a fresh start on pretty disappointing tour so far.
     
Teams (from):
     
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Ishwar Pandey.
     
New Zealand: Brendon McCullum, Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Jesse Ryder, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling (wk), Kane Williamson.

 (JPN/Agencies)

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