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Injuries dog India ahead of Lanka tie

As many as three players, Agarkar, Irfan and Yuvi, are doubtful starters because of injury problems.

india Updated: Feb 07, 2007 22:39 IST

India were grappling with injury worries on the eve of their first match against Sri Lanka in a cricket series which will serve as a litmus test for out-of-form Virender Sehwag in his bid to secure a World Cup berth.

As many as three players -- Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan and Yuvraj Singh -- were rendered doubtful starters because of injury problems forcing the team management to defer naming the playing line-up for the day-night encounter at the Eden Gardens.

Agarkar was down with flu while Pathan, desperate to regain his form to earn a place in the World Cup squad, had a sore shoulder and did not bowl during practice. Yuvraj, who has just recovered from a knee injury, had a stiff back.

The list of casualties may force the Indian think tank to alter their plans for the game which was expected to be watched by a capacity crowd.

Indian captain Rahul Dravid said the playing eleven would be decided on Thursday to give the injured players a little more time to regain fitness.

"I would have loved to announce the 12 for the match, but we could not do it now and probably we will wait till tomorrow morning," Dravid said.

Dravid gave enough indications that the Indians would not tinker with the opening combination of Sourav Ganguly and Robin Uthappa, which means that comeback man Sehwag would bat in the middle order.

Asked how Sehwag was shaping up for his return match, Dravid said, "he is working hard in different areas, the smile is back on his face. He is keen to perform well tomorrow."

"We are looking forward to a good performance in the four-match series, we have a good team, Sri Lanka also has a very good side. This is our last opportunity to fine-tune our game before the World Cup and we will be happy to put up a good performance", Dravid said.

Besides Sehwag, Pathan and paceman Munaf Patel, considered vital cogs in team composition, will also be under the scanner before the selectors choose the final 15 for the World Cup on February 12.

India, who are coming from a 3-1 win over West Indies in the recent home series, would like to maintain the winning momentum and the massive 6-1 victory over the islanders a year ago could serve as a psychological cushion for the team.

From Kolkata to Rajkot, all eyes will chase Sehwag, who will play the two make-or-break games of his life this week.

In the months gone by, he was stripped of vice-captaincy and later was axed from the squad. But knowing his match-winning prowess, the selectors want to give him one last chance before making up their mind.

Munaf, who sat out for a considerable time during the South Africa tour after sustaining an ankle injury, would be closely watched as far as his fitness was concerned.

Baroda cricketer Pathan, who has won many matches for India with his all-round abilities, would also like to raise the bar for himself and regain his skill of devastating swing bowling in order to stake claim for a ticket to the Caribbean.

Strokeful opener Uthappa, who has already emerged as a formidable contender for a berth in cricket's showpiece event, needs a couple of good knocks to cement his place and Eden Gardens could provide him the perfect stage for one of those.

With the dew factor likely to play a crucial role, the cricket buffs would be keen to see whether India sticks to a double-spin attack in the form of offie Harbhajan Singh and leggie Anil Kumble or opts for more seamers.

But it is real party time for the Kolkata crowd. Apart from getting the match out-of-the blue after the original hosts Pune developed last-minute hitches, the presence of in-form local boy Ganguly in the team has drawn enough interest among the denizens, who have purchased all the 88,000 tickets for the day-night exchange.

On his part, Ganguly has already declared that it was his dream to score an international hundred at his home turf, a venue where he has constantly failed to find his bearings throughout his career.

Sri Lanka have a depleted side, as two of their key bowlers - off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and pacer Chaminda Vaas - could not make the trip due to injury.

But such is the depth in the Lankan batting that it will compensate for the absence of the two experienced bowlers in the side. Young sensation Upul Tharanga, the experienced Sanath Jayasuriya, skipper Mahela Jayawardene, veteran Marvan Atapattu and vice-captain Kumar Sangakkara are likely to provide enough challenge to the Indian bowlers.

The pitch has some grass and BCCI Ground and Pitches Committee member (East Zone) Prabir Mukherjee promised that it would be a true one-day wicket, with full of runs in store.