India's ability will be tested against Lanka
With the one-day cricket series tantalisingly poised at 1-1, India's ability to perform in a crunch situation will be tested when they go into the series decider against Sri Lanka here on Saturday without the services of Sachin Tendulkar.
Tendulkar, who had shown glimpses of his vintage form in this series, has been rested because of a stiff back to ensure that he is fully fit before the World Cup.
A victory in the crucial game will no doubt serve as a morale booster for the Indians before they embark on the journey to the West Indies for the March-April World Cup.
After the shock five-run defeat in the second game in Rajkot, the hosts were far more convincing to record a comfortable five-wicket victory in the third match in Margao and level the four-match series.
But despite the improved show, the prolonged form slump of Virender Sehwag has become a worrying factor for the home team and captain Rahul Dravid, who has backed him to the hilt, would be hoping that the Delhi swashbuckler hits form in the important tie.
Sehwag has been going through an extremely lean patch and the team management has tried everything to help him find the touch that had made him one of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket.
Barring Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh to some extent, most of the other Indian batsmen have got runs under their belt and would be in a positive frame of mind when they go in to bat on what appears to be a good batting strip.
It was still not clear whether paceman Irfan Pathan, who sat out of the first three matches of the series because of a sore shoulder, had regained full fitness. Even if the out-of-from bowler has recovered, the team management may not take the risk of fielding him for the decider.
India and Sri Lanka are clubbed in the same group for the World Cup and both teams will be seeking to gain some psychological advantage by winning the match which is expected to attract a capacity crowd.
India should not face any difficulty in making the World Cup second stage with the other teams in Group-B being Bangladesh and Bermuda. Yet a win over Sri Lanka will give the team vital points to carry forward.
The bowlers, particularly Zaheer Khan, have done a commendable job sticking to a tidy line and length but Indian openers have been a little unpredictable.
Opener Robin Uthappa will get another chance to play tomorrow and the top order should show character and discipline.
Sri Lanka has a formidable batting line-up and it would be out to prove that its dramatic collapse against India in Goa was just an aberration.
Sanath Jayasuriya with his experience can be depended upon to give another fiery start along with Upul Tharanga. Mahela Jayawardene, Marvan Atapattu, Russel Arnold, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillekaratne Dilshan have all made useful contributions with the bat and they will need to fire in unison on Saturday.
Statistically, Indian team has an edge over number of wins having defeated the Sri Lankans on 48 occasions in 93 matches, including 24 times against ten (two no result) in Indian soil.
In neutral venues too, India lead the table with 15 wins against seven by the Sri Lankans.
India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Sourav Ganguly, Robin Uthappa, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Dinesh Kaarthick, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble and S Sreesanth.
Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Sanath Jayasuriya, Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara, Marvan Atapattu, Russel Arnold, Tillekaratne Dilshan, Farveez Maharoof, Upul Chandana, Chamara Silva, Malinga Bandara, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Nuwan Zoysa and Nuwan Kulasekara.