Colombo:India's quest to become the world's number one ODI team suffered a big jolt with opener Gautam Gambhir being ruled out of the tri-series on the eve of their opening match against New Zealand.
With the destructive Virender Sehwag and pace spearhead Zaheer Khan not in the team because of injuries, India has been further depleted with the in-form Gambhir joining the casualty list.
Gambhir will return home after straining his groin muscle during practice and has been advised rest for ten days. Young Dehi middle order batsman Virat Kohli has been named as his replacement.
The setback to Gambhir could not come at a more inopportune time and it will no doubt disturb the combination at the top of the order.
With the regular pair of Sehwag and Gambhir sidelined, the experienced Sachin Tendulkar and Dinesh Karthik, who has opened the innings in recent times, could take up the responsibility.
The brief series assumes importance for India as they are fully aware that a clean sweep in the tournament would make them the number one ODI team in the world.
The tag of the number of team will be the main goal for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men who need to win both their league matches and the final to achieve the feat.
If India win the two league matches and then the final, they will earn two rating points which is enough to topple South Africa who are currently on top of the table.
While the Indians appear to be quite confident, it will be a do-or-die battle for the Kiwis who were thrashed by the hosts in the opening match. A defeat against India will dash their hopes of a berth in the final.
But the Black Caps, who have been strengthened by the return of some of their ICL players like Shane Bond and Daryl Tuffey, are a dangerous one-day team and are quite capable of turning the table on any fancied team on their day.
India would be without aggressive opener Virender Sehwag who has been ruled out because of a shoulder surgery but return of veteran Rahul Dravid lends solidity to the middle-order.
In the absence of Sehwag, left-handed Gautam Gambhir is expected to open with the seasoned Sachin Tendulkar. The Indians have young all rounder Abhishek Nayar in their ranks and it remains to be seen whether the team management decides to give him a chance to prove his worth.
The way Sri Lankan pace battery of Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga and Thilan Thushara peformed in the first match Indians would be tempted to play three pacers.
Both Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra are expected to play due to the spin-friendly nature of Sri Lanka wickets but there is stiff competition in the pace department.
Left-armer Ashish Nehra looks sure as he had made a good comeback to the team after four years in the last series against the West Indies in July and it would be a surprise if he is omitted from the final line-up.
Probably Praveen Kumar will sit out as as his success hinges much on swing which he is unlikely to get from the tracks here and Ishant Sharma and RP Singh would start favourite.
The lanky Sharma has been struggling for quite some but the team management is likely to persist with him. The Kiwis will have to sort their inconsistent batting if they have to keep alive their chances.
They rely much on the exploits of Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor and they will have to fire to save their team from blushes as they have already the Test series to Sri Lanka.
Jacob Oram and Kyle Mills are the other two players India will have to look out for.
Return of Shane Bond to the national fold has bolstered Kiwi pace department and he along with Tuffey and Daniel Vettori can make life hard for the Indians.