PREVIEW-Cricket-India fret over pitch ahead of Windies opener

NEW DELHI Fri Nov 4, 2011 6:50am GMT

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NEW DELHI Nov 4 (Reuters) - India host West Indies in the opener of their three-match series on Sunday with doubts over the Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium pitch, which will be hosting a test for the first time since serving an international ban.

Kotla was handed a one-year ban after an India v Sri Lanka one-dayer was abandoned in 2009 because of a dangerous pitch and although a few limited-overs matches have been played since the suspension ended, the rigours of a five-day match will provide a sterner test of the surface's credentials.

Delhi and District Cricket Association officials have been quoted in the local media as saying they could not get the "right mix" for the soil and were hoping the lack of bind would not result in a crumbling wicket.

For India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the focus, however, will be on banishing the memory of the team's shambolic tour of England.

Injury-ravaged India were whitewashed 4-0 in one of their worst ever overseas performances, where they could not win a single international match.

The test series whitewash also ended their run as the top-ranked team and pushed them down to the third place in the standings.

"The series against West Indies might well be the beginning of our campaign to regain the number one test status," middle order stalwart Vangipurappu Laxman told the Hindu newspaper.

"After the dismal series in England, the tests against West Indies are very important. We hope to start on a very positive note and get back into the winning mood once again ahead of the Australian tour," the stylish right-hander added.

India will play four tests in Australia in December-January, followed by two Twenty20 internationals and a tri-series also featuring Sri Lanka.

The series against a West Indies team ranked seventh is perceived as the perfect build-up for Australia.

India will once again be able to call on the services of regular openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, and the middle order will look stronger with Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh also returning from injuries.

Tendulkar needs just one three-digit score to become the first batsman to score 100 international centuries while Yuvraj has already announced that his motivation would be to cement his place in the test side.

With Zaheer Khan still recovering from ankle surgery and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh dropped, both the pace and slow-ball departments look inexperienced.

The bowlers, however, can bank on their batting colleagues to put those extra runs on the board to place additional pressure on the tourists.

Skipper Darren Sammy and his men looked ill at ease against Bangladesh's spin-heavy attack and a bigger test awaits them in India where off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha will do everything to make life miserable for them.

The tourists, however, can derive positives from their series victory in Bangladesh.

In the second and final test in Dhaka, Kirk Edwards scored a century in the first innings and 86 in the second, Darren Bravo almost bagged a maiden double century and promising leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo claimed a first five-wicket haul.

Kolkata hosts the second test from Nov 14 and Mumbai the third from Nov 22.

Squads:

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Vangipurappu Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Virat Kohli, Varun Aaron, Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Sharma.

West Indies: Darren Sammy (captain), Adrian Barath, Carlton Baugh, Devendra Bishoo, Kraigg Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Fidel Edwards, Kirk Edwards, Kieran Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Shane Shillingford.

(Editing by John O'Brien; To comment on this story, email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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