India v New Zealand: MS Dhoni will lead a new-look team
India have a point to prove when they host New Zealand in the first Test of the two-match series in Hyderabad on Thursday.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team have endured a tumultuous 12 months, having lost eight consecutive overseas Test matches in England and Australia.
They were also replaced by the English as the number one Test side in the world.
Only Sachin Tendulkar remains from the 'Fab Four', which also included Sourav Ganguly.
Youngsters like Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Subramaniam Badrinath and Suresh Raina are eager to help India on the road to recovery.
However, most experts say it will be too big a task for them to replace the reliable trio of Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman - who share the experience of 441 Test matches and more than 29,000 runs between them.
"While the end of the era of India's Fabulous Four was inevitable, the reality has hit harder than expected," columnist Sanjjeev Karan Samyal wrote in the Hindustan Times.
"The best of replacements were going to be dwarfed when compared to Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly, but the line-up assembled for the first Test makes the Indian cupboard look eerily bare."
Ganguly, now a pundit, also believes the road ahead is tough for the youngsters and says they should not be put under too much pressure.
"It is very important, at this stage, not to compare these players with the greats of the game and allow them to settle down without worrying who they are replacing," he wrote in the same paper.
According to Ganguly, this series will mark the beginning of the transition phase that cricket experts and the media have long been talking about.
India's performance will also depend on explosive openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag. The duo's good start will take the pressure off the new middle order, and Tendulkar as well.
S Dinakar argued in his column in The Hindu newspaper that Sehwag is a "marauding opener who can dent the morale of the new-ball bowlers and power India to rollicking starts when he is at his most dangerous".
The bowling department looks healthier than the batting line-up, with the presence of pace bowlers Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav. The pitch in Hyderabad is likely to support the spinners and Dhoni will try to exploit this with Pragyan Ojha, Piyush Chawla and Ravichandran Ashwin.
"The curator assured that the ball would turn from the second day onwards," PTI news agency predicted. "And that should inspire the Indian spin trio."
New Zealand too are coming into the series after back-to-back defeats against South Africa and the West Indies.
Brendon McCullum scored a double century in Hyderabad during the Kiwis' last India tour and he will be look to emulate that achievement.
"Martin Guptill and Brendon will open the innings," said New Zealand captain Ross Taylor. "Brendon batted well here on previous occasions and, hopefully, he will continue in the same vein in the upcoming Tests."
The Kiwi bowling will heavily depend on experienced Tim Southee, with Jeetan Patel and Tarun Nethula expected to fill in for experienced spinner and former captain Daniel Vettori, who misses the tour through injury.
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