Nagpur:India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni would be desperate to sort out his team's bowling woes when they take on New Zealand in the third and final cricket Test of three-match series, starting from on Saturday, amidst threat of weather playing a spoilsport.
After not being able to break the deadlock in the first two Tests in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad respectively, the Indian team will be looking to go all out for an elusive victory against the New Zealanders here at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Jamtha.
Even Daniel Vettori-led Black Caps would also be aiming to script a historic away series win against India. This will also be the last chance, before the World Cup, for Sachin Tendulkar to complete his historic 50th Test ton in front of his countrymen.
If Tendulkar fails to reach the three figure mark here, he would still have a chance to reach the milestone in South Africa. But completing the half century of Test tons in front of his countrymen would surely be extra special.
The pressure is no doubt there on the maestro who had been able to accumulate only 65 runs from his three innings in the series so far. He hasn't been in the best of touch but one can expect him to rise to the occasion as he has done it time and again during his 21 years of international career.
While Indians would pray for the rains not to disrupt the proceedings, Dhoni will also expect that he gets a strip where it won't take his team "10 days" to extract a result.
The weather conditions improved today with the sun beating down but the Indian team couldn't start their net session as per their 9 am schedule.
Around quarter past 10, rival coaches Gary Kirsten and Mark Greatbatch came to inspect the centre strip. With the curator promising a sporting wicket, the bowling combination for India will be the bone of contention during the next five days. With team's pace spearhead Zaheer Khan ruled out due to injury, there will be an additional pressure on senior pro Harbhajan Singh to shoulder the burden of leading the attack.
Harbhajan may have had the most memorable time wielding his willow to good effect, having scored back-to-back centuries with a total of 295 runs in the series but he hasn't been able to bother the New Zealand batsmen with the ball. Agreed he didn't get much purchase from the previous two strips but one can't deny the fact that his bowling nowadays lacks the bite he used to have earlier on sub-continent pitches.
With Zaheer not there, it will be Ishant Sharma who will be back in the playing XI sharing the new ball with S Sreesanth. Ishant, who has been very erratic of late with persistent problems of overstepping, did bowl a good spell on the fourth day morning against Australia in Mohali before he was ruled out for the next Test in Bangalore.
Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha has been one of the better bowlers for India in this series. Not only has he bowled long spells but also kept a tight check on the batsmen at times. The batting department also has some worrying points. The skipper himself hasn't contributed anything with the bat in recent Test matches and he should be feeling the heat of trying to set an example by leading from the front with a solid performance.
Nor has Suresh Raina, who had an impressive debut in Sri Lanka and scored 80-plus in the first innings against Australia in Mohali, has done much after that. Raina's weakness against short-pitched deliveries are now a well-known and teams are trying to cash in on that.
With Cheteshwar Pujara, who made his mark with a solid half century on debut, eagerly waiting for another break, time is surely running out for Raina who may just have a torrid time on the bouncy South African pitches in the next Test series.
Among the top-order batsmen, only Virender Sehwag who has already scored 324 runs looks in ominous form. A lot will depend on the kind of start the Nawab of Najafgarh will provide. Another positive aspect has been Gautam Gambhir's half century in the Hyderabad Test.
The Delhi lad who hasn't been in the best of forms this season looked like getting back some of his touch which augurs well for his team.
VVS Laxman who is in sublime touch will also like to keep up the good work.
The New Zealand team, on the other hand, would be expecting to do the basics right, something they have done, showing exemplary discipline. That the Kiwis batsmen have done their homework was evident in the manner in which they have displayed remarkable application.
Brendon McCullum who scored a superb double hundred in Hyderabad Test, would like to do an encore here. The bowling sans skipper Vettori isn't something they would boast of but nevertheless, the two draws would definitely keep them in good stead.
India (Likely XI): Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Suresh Raina, VVS Laxman, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt and wk), Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, S Sreesanth, Pragyan Ojha.
New Zealand (Likely): Tim McIntosh, Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder, Kane Williamson, Garreth Hopkins (wk), Daniel Vettori (capt), Brent Arnell/James Franklin, Tim Southee, Chris Martin.
Field Umpires: Nigel Llong and Simon Taufel.
Third Umpire: Sanjay Hazare.