Guwahati: Having been made to work extremely hard to keep itself afloat in the series, India's ability to handle pressure in a crucial situation will be put to test in the deciding match against Zimbabwe at the Nehru Stadium on Tuesday. With a woeful record of nine straight defeats in final matches, Saurav Ganguly and his men have their task cut out trying to break the jinx of being chokers in summit showdowns for almost two years now. India's vulnerability to cave in under pressure has become a common phenomenon and the spirited Zimbabweans will be hoping to exploit this weakness in what promises to be a thrilling contest of nerves and skills.
Despite their underdog status, the visitors have done extremely well, having humbled the Indians twice in their own den, and will be determined to clinch the series to make amends for their rout in the Tests. India will be under tremendous pressure and a defeat would call for wholesale changes in the team for the forthcoming tour to West Indies. The selectors have decided to wait for the series to end before picking the squad indicating that they have not been too happy with the performance. The absence of batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar and spin wizard Anil Kumble due to injuries have made the home team's task that much more difficult but it would also give an opportunity to the youngsters to prove their worth. Clearly the Indians have to be more consistent to be able to make an impact at the highest level and the players have to play with much more responsibility instead of throwing away their wickets after having settled down.
The toss could play a vital role as the ball was likely to swing a little bit in the morning though the chief curator of the ground and pitches committee G Kasturirangan believed the strip would play well right through the match. The wicket at the Nehru stadium has traditionally helped the bowlers to some extent in the early hours of the match and then tended to get a little slow towards the later stages. It could behave differently this time since the tie is being played in warmer conditions. The performance of two youngsters Mohammed Kaif and comeback man Yuvraj Singh in the last One-dayer in Hyderabad has proved that the youngsters have the talent to play match-winning roles but they should learn to do it more often. Ganguly will have to lead from the front and the elegant left-hander has the ability to tear the bowling to shreds.
Ganguly and Dinesh Mongia, who has not got a big score in the series so far, will have to lay the foundation for a big total so that the later order batsmen do not feel the pressure. With the batting order looking rather inexperienced, the seasoned Rahul Dravid will have to shoulder the responsibility in the middle order and perform the role of sheet-anchor while Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Ajit Agarkar and Ajay Ratra go for the runs. The Indian bowlers have also their task cut out and will have to be very disciplined in their performance. The two pacers Zaheer Khan and Agarkar have not been too consistent in the series though they have managed to produce some good spells.
The host's hope of restricting the Zimbabweans will largely depend on off spinner Harbhajan Singh and it remains to be seen whether he can deliver the goods for his team in the crucial match. Zimbabwe does not have too many star players in its ranks, but it has played as a team rather than rely on individual brilliance and that has made all the difference. Besides, it has fielded brilliantly right through the series, an important factor in the shorter version of the game. The visitors would no doubt depend on their key batsman Andy Flower to come out with a substantial contribution with the bat while Grant Flower, Alistair Campbell, captain Stewart Carlisle and Dion Ebrahim would also be expected to chip in with useful scores.
The Zimbabweans, for whom the tour has been part of a learning process, have found talented cricketers in Douglas Marillier, who struck a blistering unbeaten 56 to take the team to victory in the first One-dayer in Faridabad, and Douglas Hondo, who scalped four wickets at Kochi.