India hope their youngsters will rise to the big occasion in the two-Test series against New Zealand starting on Thursday to soften the blow of losing Rahul Dravid and Venkatsai Laxman.
Dravid quit Tests in March after scoring 13,288 runs in 164 matches while fellow prolific batsman Laxman retired on Saturday with 8,781 runs in 134 Tests, leaving a gaping hole in the middle order.
“One of the ways to look at it is to look ahead for the future. These two are great players and we will miss them on the field,” Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni told reporters on the eve of the Hyderabad Test.
“But at the same time, it’s an opportunity for youngsters to take up the responsibility in the longest format and we are hoping they will grab these opportunities and do well.”
The 24-year-old Cheteshwar Pujara, and Suresh Raina, who is a year older, are likely to replace Dravid and Laxman. The promising duo have a combined tally of just 18 Tests and both return to the Test squad after a year.
India will also feel the absence of Dravid and Laxman in the slips, where the pair held many superb catches. Dravid took a Test record 210 catches and Laxman 135.
“We are hoping we won’t miss them . . . We have seen some of the youngsters and they catch really well. We have Virat Kohli, Raina and Virender Sehwag,” said a bullish Dhoni.
“I don’t think we will be short of fielders in the slips. Let’s just look ahead and give the youngsters a chance, and one of them may take some catches.”
The Indian captain said his team were keen to start the new home season on a positive note after losing eight successive overseas Tests, four each in England and Australia, in the past 12 months.
“We had a disappointing last eight (away) Test matches, but if you look at the positive side of it, there is only one way and that’s going up,” said Dhoni.
“For us, it will be to start the Test on a positive note. We have not played a Test in the last six-seven months, so it’s important to get into the groove.”
New Zealand captain Ross Taylor said India would be tough to beat at home — with or without Dravid and Laxman.
“I won’t say it is going to be easy, but the confidence in the team goes up with India not having Rahul or Laxman, who are quality players,” he said.
“But that gives an opportunity to youngsters. Whoever India decide to go with, we will be attacking them and try and put them under as much pressure as possible.”
Taylor said he was looking forward to an improved performance from his side after having recently lost a Test series in the West Indies.
“We would like to be as positive as possible. We did not play as well as we know we should have in the West Indies. Playing India in India is always tough,” said the New Zealand skipper.
“We know we have to play and perform a lot better than we did in the West Indies.”
New Zealand are without key spinner Daniel Vettori due to an injury, but Taylor said his absence would give an opportunity to slow bowlers Tarun Nethula and Jeetan Patel to impress.