Hyderabad: With the selectors' threat of 'drastic changes' hanging on their heads, the Indians are expected to arrest the slide in their performance with the induction of some new blood when they take on Zimbabwe in a must-win fourth One-day International on Saturday. As if the shocking six-wicket drubbing in Kochi was not enough, the national selectors have threatened to bring about major changes in the team for the tour of the West Indies if India fails to win the One-day series against Zimbabwe.
As it is, India is going in with the handicap of the absence of star leg spinner Anil Kumble and nothing but a marked improvement in the performance of the entire team would be able to stop the Zimbabweans who are on a high being just a win away from clinching a memorable series. Two of the three new players - Yuvraj Singh, Vijay Bhardwaj and Murali Kartik - are sure to find a place in the Indian playing eleven on Saturday and there is absolutely no scope for any error on their part. The defeat in Kochi was more of India's own making, with at least three of the frontline batsmen including skipper Saurav Ganguly being guilty of getting out to rash strokes.
As such, a major part of India's problems can be solved if it is able to get over its suicidal instincts. The top order, which fired in unison in the first two matches at Faridabad and Mohali, would be keen to prove that their failures in Kochi was an aberration. Punjab youngster Dinesh Mongia, Ganguly, V V S Laxman, who would be playing on his home ground on Saturday, and Rahul Dravid have looked in good touch in this series, and they would be required to ensure a healthy total for the team because that is where India's best chances lie.
Both Yuvraj and Bhardwaj have been rewarded for their fine performances in the domestic circuit and the team expects they continue with their good work. Yuvraj, in fact, is fresh from a double century he hit only Thursday in the Duleep Trophy match against South Zone at Faridabad. In the absence of Kumble and Sharandeep Singh, Murali Kartik is sure to get the nod and, after a long time, India would be attacking with a left-arm spinner.
Kartik has had an excellent Ranji Trophy season this year and with Zimbabwe never having faced him, he can prove to be the trump card for the Indians. In fact, the Indian team still looks more balanced and formidable than the Zimbabweans, the only problem being its inconsistency. If it is able to apply itself on Saturday, a victory should not be too much of a problem. Zimbabwe on the other hand is in an upbeat mood after its two fine victories and would surely like it to count with a series win. Zimbabwe captain Stuart Carlisle said he would like to change the perception that every win of his team is due to the weakness of its opposition. "Every time Zimbabwe win, people say there is something wrong with the opposition," Carlisle said, and hoped that a series win will definitely get the credit to his team.
There was some good news for Zimbabwe with its star batsman Andy Flower being fit for Saturday's match. "He is fit. The physio has to certify him and the team would be selected tonight," Carlisle said while dropping enough hints that either Dion Ebrahim or Craig Wishart will make way for the veteran batsman. Zimbabwe has been losing early wickets in almost every match and that might prompt it to change its opening combination. Travis Friend, who has shown remarkable skills with the bat on this tour, is once again likely to come up the order especially if a wicket falls early.
The visitors had their practice session on Friday morning and fast bowler Douglas Hondo was seen sharpening his skills. Hondo gave a new dimension to the Zimbabwe attack in Kochi and would once again figure prominently in his team's scheme of things. Carlisle, who has failed to win the toss so far on this tour, once again expressed his desire to bat first on this wicket, which promises a high-scoring game on Saturday.