When the first test begins at Hamilton this week, you'll have every right to ask the question, as a procession of all-time greats take to the field, whether this Indian batting line-up is the best seen upon these shores.

It's impossible to answer, of course, but we've asked three players across the generations to have a stab at it - John R Reid, Warren Lees and Mark Richardson.

All three agree this Indian line-up compares favourably with any team that has toured here before, though Lees and Reid are both dismissive of the attack they are about to face and the conditions in which they are predicted to make hay.

"You've got to factor in that some bloody good teams have come here and have not only had to play an attack that is a lot better than the one they have now but they also have had to do it on green pitches and they've had to do it against our umpires too, and I don't think I need to say anything more on that final point," Lees said.

"Look at the attack. We have [Dan] Vettori, of course, but we had teams coming here in the '70s facing two or more of Sir Richard Hadlee, Richard Collinge, Dayle Hadlee and Hedley Howarth. That's light years ahead of what we've got now.

"When you've got Sachin Tendulkar on your team, that gives you a big tick for a start," he said. "Sachin, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, they're all great players but it's hard to judge India accurately when they're playing against a B line-up that is playing below themselves. Some pretty good teams have come out here and played against much better attacks than this C-team line-up."

Lees could not help but have a pop at the fact New Zealand's best seamer, by some margin, has not been allowed anywhere near the Indians this summer.

"I blame New Zealand Cricket for Shane Bond," he continued. "He was their employee, not international cricket's. Only they should have any say in where he can play. Not once has an Indian batsman been hurried up all summer. Even on flat decks, you should be able to hurry a batsman up, if you've got somebody quick enough."

Lees and Reid agree on one other point that cannot be underestimated: the shrinking of the grounds.

"Bringing the boundary ropes in has made it a lot easier," said Reid. "You have top edges going for six these days which is ridiculous. Not too many edges went for six when I was playing, they tended to be caught."

Lees concurred: "The boundaries are getting ridiculous. Sure, it's great entertainment but is it the best thing for the game? The money men will say yes, I guess, because they'll think it gets people through the gate, but I don't know."

Reid cannot go past the English teams of the '50s in terms of the best batting line-ups. The greatest he faced was in England in '58 and, although the team that toured New Zealand the following year was not quite as strong, it stands as the best batting team to tour here in Reid's eyes, ahead of the 1952 West Indian team that contained the three Ws, Sir Everton Weekes, Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Clyde Walcott.

Lees was partial to the Australian sides of the 1970s, believing that any team that contained the Chappell brothers, Ian and Greg, and Doug Walters was probably a notch ahead of anything else that had toured here in terms of batting strength.

"They came here and faced good attacks on green-tops against our umpires. They were a fantastic side. They might have had a couple of weak links but those three were so good, they more than made up for them. England came out here a bit and always had good players - Geoff Boycott, David Gower, Graham Gooch and the likes - but as a unit, they were never as good as that Australian team. They would also have the likes of Geoff Miller or Graham Roope, who were pretty average players."

Mark Richardson said two batting line-ups stood out in his mind: the 1987 West Indians with Viv Richards as their centrepiece and the 2005 Australians.

"But right now, I'd say this team, India, is just as strong. I'd find it really hard to separate them. In fact, I'd probably have to give India the edge because they have simply have no weak link."

WARREN LEES
Australia, 1974
Even though this series was drawn, thanks to the heroics of Glenn Turner on a green seamer in Christchurch, this Australian line-up was better than the one that toured here three years later. Not only did they score big runs, they tended to score them quickly. Remember, too, that the 1970s were generally considered the toughest decade in which to bat, so don't be fooled by the likes of Ian Chappell averaging less than, say, Mark Richardson.

1. Keith Stackpole
Average: 37.42 100s: 7 50s: 14
This tour actually finished him as a test batsman. He arrived in the country with a test average of 40 and an aggregate of 2757. He left with only 50 more runs under his belt and bagged an unceremonious pair in his final test. A real dasher, though, and the perfect antidote to...

2. Ian Redpath
Average: 43.45 100s: 8 50s: 31
The last of the amateurs and an antique dealer, Redpath was as difficult to move as a four-poster bed, once established. He took delight in batting for long period, something his team-mates, but not necessarily spectators, delighted in.

3. Ian Chappell
Average: 42.42 100s: 14 50s: 26
Only the second-best player in his family but that's no disgrace when your younger brother is Greg Chappell. As hard as flint and as agreeable as Ena Sharples - a classic batsmen in the Australian mould. An unselfish player who never gave much of a toss about personal stats which, most agree, could have been far loftier had he batted for himself occasionally.

4. Greg Chappell
Average: 53.86 100s: 24 50s: 31
"He was as good as it gets," says Lees. "Who knows what he would have been able to do on these flat pitches, with the short boundaries, against this attack." For a while, Public Enemy No 1 in New Zealand (and, more recently, India) but if you didn't enjoy watching him bat, you didn't enjoy cricket. Mind you, not many in the New Zealand side would have enjoyed seeing him and Ian become the first brothers to score centuries in each innings of a test, as they did at the Basin in this series. Greg scored 247 not out and 133, Ian a mere 145 and 121.

5. Ian Davis
Average: 26.61 100s: 1 50s: 4
The fair-haired Sydneysider looks out of place in this line-up and that probably accounts for the fact he played only 15 tests with moderate success. One 50 in a losing side at Christchurch was his only real impact on the series.

6. Doug Walters
Average: 48.26 100s: 15 50s: 33
On the field was about the only time he didn't have a smoke hanging from his lips. And where there was smoke, there was usually beer. He probably wouldn't have survived Leading Teams but he drove plenty of good bowling attacks to distraction. He scored an unbeaten ton at Auckland on this tour but saved his best for three years later, when he scored 250 at Christchurch after staying up all night drinking. A genuine legend in every respect.

7. Rod Marsh (wk)
Average: 26.51 100s: 3 50s: 16
A fly-in-the-ointment cricketer. You'd worked your way through the cream of Australia's batting then Marsh came out to capitalise on flagging attacks. Probably a better batsman than Ian Healy but all Australian wicketkeeper-batsmen have tended to be eclipsed by the giant shadow of Adam Gilchrist.

MARK RICHARDSON
Herald on Sunday columnist Mark Richardson simply couldn't separate these two line-ups. It's easy to see why, though if you used stats alone, the Australians would be hard to beat. We've dispensed with the blurbs for the Australians because you should be able to remember the torment they caused here. Some are still causing torment. Perhaps they're best summed up by acknowledging that Michael Hussey was on that tour and couldn't get a game.

West Indies, 1987
1. Gordon Greenidge
Average: 44.72 100s: 19 50s: 34
A mid-off's nightmare. Greenidge's stand-and-deliver style won him many admirers but none among fielders. Scored a double ton in the Windies' crushing win at Auckland. He and Haynes shared 16 century partnerships and four of them were worth more than 200 and they didn't even like each other much, apparently. Mind you, Greenidge often looked as if he didn't like anyone that much.

2. Desmond Haynes
Average: 42.29 100s: 18 50s: 39
With a sunny smile and a reputation as more of an accumulator than most West Indians, Haynes was in many ways the antithesis of Greenidge. They shared a massive appetite for runs, though.

3. Larry Gomes
Average: 39.63 100s: 9 50s: 13
He was the bass player in a team full of lead guitarists. He struggled on this tour, his last, but his six test centuries against Australia better illustrate his worth.

4. Richie Richardson
Average: 44.39 100s: 16 50s: 37
The last of the great helmet-less wonders, Richardson was the snapshot of West Indian batsmanship. He hooked with ferocity but was even better through the offside, rarely moving his feet but flaying ball after ball through the cover region. He scored nine centuries against Australia, though, like Gomes, we never saw the best of him here.

5. Viv Richards
Average: 50.23 100s: 24 50s: 45
He struggled for runs a bit here but never lost his swagger and only rarely his poise. Nobody, not Botham, not Chappell, could match Richards' presence on the field. Yep, he was pretty good.

6. Gus Logie
Average: 35.79 100s: 2 50s: 16
Performed poorly here but was regarded as the glue that would hold together a fairly long tail. Brilliant short leg fieldsman but fell short, and he was short, of brilliance with the bat.

7. Jeff Dujon
Average: 31.94 100s: 5 50s: 16
A very cool cat and a cat that could bat.

Australia, 2005
1. Justin Langer
Average: 45.27 100s: 23 50s: 30

2. Matthew Hayden
Average: 50.73 100s: 30 50s: 29

3. Ricky Ponting
Average: 56.72 100s: 37 50s: 46

4. Damien Martyn
Average: 46.37 100s: 13 50s: 23

5. Michael Clark
Average: 48.56 100s: 10 50s: 13

6. Simon Katich
Average: 43.05 100s: 7 50s: 13

7. Adam Gilchrist
Average: 47.61 100s: 17 50s: 26

JOHN R REID
England, 1959

The best batting line-up Reid ever played - in fact, the best team he believes New Zealand has ever played - was the England side of 1958.

A year later, they toured New Zealand and although the batting line-up was not quite as potent - the openers were relatively weak by English standards - it was still a middle order to be feared.

Note, too, that England batted a top six only. Offspinner John Mortimore batted No 7 but he was hardly an allrounder.

1. Peter Richardson
Average: 37.47 100s: 5 50s: 9
A Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1957, Richardson will not enter the pantheon of England openers but he will be forever thanked for his performance in the 1957 series against Australia that helped secure the Ashes.

2. Willie Watson
Average: 25.85 100s: 2 50s: 3
A much better bat than New Zealand's Willie Watson but one whose test figures undermine his ability. Played cricket and football for England and is best remembered for a match-saving century against Australia at Lord's.

3. Tom Graveney
Average: 44.38 100s: 11 50s: 20
Classical player who scored four of his 11 test centuries after his 39th birthday. However, he never did as well against New Zealand as he did most other countries, which in itself was a rarity in those times.

4. Peter May
Average: 46.77 100s: 13 50s: 22
"He was a star, a real star," Reid says. "He hit Tony MacGibbon, a pace bowler, off the back foot over extra cover for six at The Oval. I thought, 'fair enough but he can't do that again' - but he did. There was none of this ropes in 20m business either. They were big hits." Every England schoolboy's hero.

5. Colin Cowdrey
Average: 44.06 100s: 22 50s: 38 "He was a little more sedate than Peter May, so you felt you could do something about it, whereas when Peter was going for it, you were helpless. Still, a terrific, classical player." Faced Lillee and Thomson, sans helmet, at the age of 42.

6. Ted Dexter
Average: 47.89 100s: 9 50s: 27
Lord Ted could absolutely smash the ball and he preferred to smash the quickest of the quicks. A great cricketer but a very poor selector later in life. Shame to tarnish such a legacy.

7. John Mortimore
Average: 24.3 100s: 0 50s: 1
Not an allrounder by today's standards. Perhaps it was indicative of the strength of England's top six that they could start their tail at No 7.

Other line-ups worthy of recognition
England, 1933
1. Herbert Sutcliffe
Average: 60.73 100s: 16 50s: 23

2. Eddie Paynter
Average: 59.23 100s: 4 50s: 7

3. Wally Hammond
Average: 58.45 100s: 28 50s: 22

4. Robert Wyatt
Average: 31.70 100s: 2 50s: 12

5. Douglas Jardine
Average: 48.00 100s:1 50s: 10

6. Lesley Ames (wk)
Average: 40.56 100s: 8 50s: 7

7. Freddie Brown
Average: 25.31 100s: 0 50s: 5

Snapshot: Just look at the averages of the top three. You could very easily make a case that this was the greatest batting side to tour New Zealand but finding those who witnessed them with their own eyes is more difficult. Hammond and Sutcliffe were two of the all-time greats and although Wyatt and Jardine were not considered great batsmen, having Les Ames come in at No 6 certainly made the line-up deep.

England also sent a very good side here in 1947 that, along with an ageing Hammond, also had Bill Edrich and Denis Compton. However ,with Norman Yardley, John Ikin and Godfrey Evans in the top seven, they had significant weaknesses as well.

Their 1951 line-up was strong, with Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook opening and Compton the star of the middle order backed up by a young Trevor Bailey. However, they were carrying three players in the top seven with no claims to batting greatness.

West Indies, 1952
1. Jeffrey Stollmeyer
Average: 42.33 100s: 4 50s: 12

2. Roy Marshall
Average: 20.42 100s: 0 50s: 0

3. Frank Worrell
Average: 49.48 100s: 9 50s: 22

4. Everton Weekes
Average: 58.61 100s: 15 50s: 19

5. Clyde Walcott
Average: 56.68 100s: 15 50s: 14

6. Robert Christian
Average: 26.35 100s: 1 50s: 4

7. John Goddard
Average: 30.67 100s: 0 50s: 4

Snapshot: Edges out the next West Indian team to arrive on these shores in 1956, a team with a youthful Sir Garry Sobers, because of the famed three Ws. These three Bajans could destroy an attack and they were well supported, even if the stats don't necessarily say so. Stollmeyer was a very effective opening bat who blunted the attack so the Ws could wreak their havoc while Christiani was an unselfish player who gave the impression he enjoyed a quick 40 more than a long 100. Only Roy Marshall stands out as a weak link but ask any Hampshire follower what to make of the white, bespectacled batsman and they will tell you he was anything but weak.

Pakistan, 1973
1. Sadiq Mohammad
Average: 35.81 100s: 5 50s: 10

2. Zaheer Abbas
Average: 44.79 100s: 12 50s: 20

3. Majid Khan
Average: 38.92 100s: 8 50s: 19

4. Mushtaq Mohammad
Average: 39.17 100s: 10 50s: 19

5. Asif Iqbal
Average: 38.85 100s: 11 50s: 12

6. Wasim Raja
Average: 36.16 100s: 4 50s: 18

7. Intikhab Alam
Average: 22.28 100s: 1 50s: 8

Snapshot: Stats can be deceiving. While only Zaheer of this line-up can claim anywhere near statistical greatness with the bat, they were all, apart from the big-hitting Intikhab, excellent craftsmen. The '70s was the most difficult time for batsmen. Flat pitches and helmets were not yet in vogue, but hostile fast bowling was. You could add between five to 10 runs on batsmen of this era's averages to get a more contemporary reading.

Sadiq was part of Pakistan cricketing royalty, a natural right-hander who was encouraged to bat left-handed by his brothers, including the brilliant Mushtaq. Majid Khan was from the other line of Pakistan royalty (cousin, Imran) and he could turn it on. Zaheer Abbas was all class but his eyesight and reflexes deteriorated late in his career to the point where he was a sitting duck for the really quick bowlers. Asif was mercurial and, many believe, at the vanguard of the match-fixing that would later stain the game. Wasim Raja was the most talented. He loved playing the West Indies and, it is reported, used to bat in the nets against Imran Khan without bothering to wear pads. That's class.