All eyes will be on Sachin Tendulkar as the Indian team's 2006-07 cricket season starts with the Unitech Cup triangular series, which will begin with a Sri Lanka-South Africa match here Monday.
Tendulkar will be the centre of attraction as he is making a comeback after a right shoulder injury that forced him to miss 14 one-day internationals (ODIs) and four Tests in his four-and-half-month absence since March when he was operated upon in London.
The 33-year-old maestro will, however, not be seen in action here till Wednesday when India play their first match against Sri Lanka, a day-night affair at the R. Premadasa Stadium, one of the two venues of the seven-match competition.
Captain Rahul Dravid acknowledged that Tendulkar's mere presence in the team in enough to boost the players.
"Sachin is keen to play. His mere presence, on and off the field, inspires others," he said, welcoming the man who is set to open the innings with vice-captain Virender Sehwag.
India, now ranked fourth on the International Cricket Council's ODI Championship table, badly need Tendulkar as their fine ODI run was checked by the West Indies in May. India, then ranked third, lost 1-4 in the Caribbean and slipped by one place.
Dravid, however, preferred to look at the positive side and said that his team recovered from the defeat in one-dayers by winning the four-match Test series 1-0 against the West Indies.
India's biggest challenge here will come from Sri Lanka, who are on a high after their fine performances on the recent tour of England and against South Africa in the Test series at home a few days ago.
The Emerald Islanders are gung-ho after their 2-0 triumph over South Africa in the just concluded two-Test series here, and they would like to carry the same form and confidence into the one-dayers.
But captain Mahela Jayawardane sounded a note of caution, saying that the ODI cricket is a different cup of tea from Test matches.
"We cannot call anyone favourites. Hopefully, it will be a good series," said the man who scored a triple century against South Africa in the Test series.
Jayawardene must have had Marvan Atapattu in mind when he said that, and pointed out that the 35-year-old, whom he replaced as captain, would be gradually brought back into the team following his recovery from a recurring back injury. Atapattu missed the England tour due to this injury for which he underwent surgery in Australia recently.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka are always a tough outfit at home - especially for India - and at almost full strength the 1996 World Cup winners are expected to be more than a handful for their opponents this time too.
India have always found it difficult to overcome Sri Lanka in their own backyard, and last year they defeated India in the final of the triangular series to prove that point again.
Sri Lanka's dominance over India in ODI is starkly borne out by cold statistics. Out of the 33 matches, Sri Lanka have won 19 and India just nine, with five games being abandoned.
Even India's overall record against Sri Lanka is not encouraging as their rivals are fast closing the gap in the win-loss ratio. So far the two countries have played 89 matches and India have won 47, while Sri Lanka have clinched 35. Seven matches have been abandoned.
The depleted South Africa are the worst off in this triangular series as they have just been thrashed in the Test series by Sri Lanka. They will need all their resources to lift the sagging morale and spirit to wipe out the memories of those results.
With original South Africa captain (Graeme Smith), vice-captain (Jacques Kallis), Charles Langeveldt and Justin Kemp absent because of various reasons, stand-in captain-cum-wicketkeeper Mark Boucher will need to come up with something extraordinary to transform the fortunes of the Proteas.
The tournament assumes much significance as it comes less than two months before the Champions Trophy is staged in India in October-November.
India coach Greg Chappell, who started his tenure exactly a year ago here, underlined this fact when he said that he would look to finalise the squad soon.
"We have worked on slightly different strategies for the tri-series. We are putting final touches for the Champions Trophy and then the World Cup (in the West Indies)," he said, looking ahead to the premier competition in April-May.
India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag (vice-captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wicketkeeper), Irfan Pathan, S. Sreesanth, Rudra Pratap Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Romesh Powar, Munaf Patel, Ajit Agarkar and Dinesh Mongia
Support staff: Greg Chappell (coach), Ian Frazer (bio-mechanic expert), John Gloster (physiotherapist), Greg King (physical trainer) and Sanjay Jagdale (manager)
Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Kumar Sangakkara (vice-captain/wicketkeeper), Sanath Jayasuriya, Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Marvan Atapattu, Chamara Kapugedera, Prasanna Jayawardene (wicketkeeper), Farveez Maharoof, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Dilhara Fernando, Lasith Malinga, Malinga Bandara and Ruchira Perera
Support staff: Tom Moody (coach), Tommy Simsek (physiotherapist), C.J. Clark (trainer), Nalin de Alwais (computer analyst), Michael Tissera (manager)
South Africa: Mark Boucher (captain/wicketkeeper), Boeta Dippenaar, Loots Bosman, Herschelle Gibbs, A.B. de Villiers, Shaun Pollock, Johan van der Wath, Robin Peterson, Andrew Hall, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Ashwell Prince, Roger Telemachus and Thandi Tshabalala
Support staff: Goolam Rajah (manager), Mickey Arthur (coach), Vincent Barnes (assistant coach), Shane Jabaar (physiotherapist), Adrian le Roux (fitness trainer), Gustav Obermeyer (computer analyst) and Gordon Templeton (media liaison)