Sewag leads cast of heavy hitters

Chris Gayle started the ball rolling over the boundary this summer, and now the Virender Sehwag show is poised to have cricket crowds cowering and New Zealand bowlers cringing.

The explosive Sehwag is set to take centre stage, albeit briefly, when India's tour gets underway at Christchurch when the first of two Twenty20 slogfests are held under lights.

Sehwag, who first caught New Zealand unawares when he blazed a match-winning century during a Tri-Series encounter in Colombo, Sri Lanka eight years ago, is an obvious danger as the star-studded Indian team strive to start their 10-match tour on a high.

The opener will set down an early marker when the tourists make their first attempt to assimilate to New Zealand conditions.

It is also the home side's first opportunity to implement bowling strategies against Sehwag, who averages 51.06 in tests with a strikerate of 78 runs per 100 balls.

New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori made no attempt to diminish the influence the 30-year-old could exert throughout a tour that also includes five one-day matches and three tests.

"Sehwag creates a lot of momentum for them, he can take a game away from a side quite quickly. A lot of our emphasis is on him and their opening partnership," he said.

"If we can put some pressure on India early, maybe that gives us a chance but if those guys get away it will be hard to pull them back in."

Sehwag's opening partner Gautam Gambhir is no slug with the bat either while an early wicket tomorrow night offers little solace considering Yuvraj Singh is a specialist closer in the shortest form of the game.

The quality of the Indian line-up has not escaped their hosts, considering Sachin Tendulkar is a tourist until the ODIs and Rahul Dravid is confined to the test squad.

"If you look at the batting line-up, and look at their records and statistics and you almost sit back in awe," Vettori admitted.

"Now they're coupling that with a pretty impressive seam attack and one of the best spinners in the world in Harbhajan (Singh)."

However, Vettori accepted the expectation on his side were high despite the Indians holding superior International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings in each format.

"There's always as expectation a New Zealand team should know its conditions and should understand how to play a lot better than the opposition.

"India are notorious for not touring here well so that puts more onus on us," he said.

"This will be a huge challenge."

Vettori is at least in a position to fight fire with fire at the top of the order with Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum reunited.

Ryder missed the drawn Chappell-Hadlee series against Australia with a shoulder injury while the hard-hitting Jacob Oram returns as a batsman only, although he did bowl in the nets today.

Ross Taylor, New Zealand's batting cornerstone across the Tasman, needs to pass a fitness test on his strained hamstring but Vettori was hopeful he would front.

While Taylor figures as an integral feature of New Zealand starting the tour on a positive note, Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was not overly fussed about the outcome.

He doubted any psychological damage would be inflicted either way.

"I'm not worried too much. Every game is a new game whether it is Twenty20, one-day or a test match.

"It doesn't make a huge difference to the entire tour."

New Zealand have only won one of their last 10 Twenty20 internationals -- the second against the West Indies in Hamilton on December 28.

They have played India once -- and won by 10 runs during the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007. India were eventually crowned champions.

The second match is at Wellington's Westpac Stadium on Friday.

NZPA

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