Bucharest, Romania:India will challenge a formidable Romania for a place in the Davis Cup World Group with in-form teenager Somdev Dev Varman as their trump card in the crucial World Group play-off tie starting on Friday.
It will be a tough test for the four-member Indian team on the red clay with Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi once again holding the key in doubles rubber.
Somdev, who has shown an exceptionally good form in the last three months, and Prakash Amritraj will play singles matches.
Amritraj, struggling with his form at present, being the weak link in the team, it is imperative for Somdev to win both singles and reverse singles matches while Lee-Hesh have to live up to their reputation if India has to enter the elite group.
India had defeated Japan in the Asia/Oceania Group semi-finals to earn the right to contest in the World Group play-off while Romania lost to France in first round of World Group to drop to play-offs.
India last played in the World Group in 1998 when it lost to Italy 1-4 on clay in the away tie.
The visitors dropped Rohan Bopanna from the team to include Somdev and have a non-playing captain in S P Mishra as Paes decided to step down as the skipper after the Beijing Olympics.
This was a fall out of his teammates' - Bhupathi, Amritraj, Bopanna revolt against him, who questioned his leadership qualities ahead of the Japan tie in April.
Indians have a dominating game on grass courts but this crucial tie is being played on clay court and Romanians, led by world number 67 Victor Hanescu, surely hold advantage.
The hosts have made two changes in their side, bringing in Adrian Cruciat (ranked 170) and Victor Crivoi (158) in place of Andrei Pavel and Florin Mergea.
Horia Tecau makes the fourth member of the team with Florin Segarceanu as non-playing captain.
Prakash is yet to play a clay court match in the Davis Cup and his current form could be a worry for the team though he did well earlier.
Somdev will play only his second Davis Cup tie but showed prime form as he won an ATP Challenger tournament in Lexington and reached quarterfinals of Vanvouver Challenger in July.
He also reached the last-eight stage of the Washington ATP event last month and toppled top-100 players like American Bobby Reynolds and gave a tough fight to World number 18 Nicolas Almargo before losing to him in another ATP event.
His ranking soared to 242 due the stupendous run and he became the second highest ranked Indian on the ATP singles chart.
Prakash, on the other hand, has seen a sudden slump in form as he tamely lost both the Challengers at New Delhi just last month.
His biggest success came when he reached final of the Newport ATP event in July and was first Indian in a decade to do so since Paes.
He also reached quarterfinals of two ATP Challengers in Dublin and Aptos in June and July respectively.