Bridgetown: India hopes to bury the horrors of 1997 when it clashes with the West Indies in the third Test, starting at the Kensington Oval here on Thursday.
India was shot out for 81 while chasing a meagre 120-run target in the third Test here in 1997, suffering its worst nightmare on the last tour. Venkatsai Laxman was the lone batsman to reach the double-figures in India's lowest-ever Test total against the West Indies. India was not to come across such an opportunity in the remaining two Tests, eventually losing the five-match series 1-0. Sachin Tendulkar's Indians were done in by pace on a pitch of variable bounce as Ian Bishop grabbed four wickets, while Curtly Ambrose and Franklyn Rose shared the other six.
India captain Saurav Ganguly said his team was better prepared to deal with the West Indian pace this time, especially after a morale-boosting 37-run win in the second Test in Trinidad for a 1-0 lead in the five-match series. The tourists owed their success to pacemen Javagal Srinath, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan, who shared eight wickets in the second innings to restrict the hosts to 275 chasing 313 to win. India will again rely on the same trio to keep pressure on the West Indies on a wicket expected to favour pacemen. "Our fast bowlers have done better than spinners in the last two Tests," said the Indian captain.
India played with two spinners in the drawn first match at Georgetown in Guyana, but neither leg spinner Anil Kumble nor off spinner Sharandeep Singh could make any impact. Kumble, only the second bowler after Englishman Jim Laker to have bagged a perfect- 10 in a Test innings, was dropped for the second match after returning 2 for 145 in the first. Harbhajan Singh replaced Sharandeep for the second Test, but failed to upstage pacemen as he grabbed two wickets in the first innings and one in the second.
Ganguly said he believed it was going to be a toss-up between Kumble and Harbhajan. Spin is not the only problem for India, still struggling to find Shiv Das's opening partner and a wicket-keeper-batsman. Wasim Jaffer is likely to get an opportunity to open with Das after his 62 in a tour match against Busta XI at St Lucia on Sunday. "He'll be in the mind when we pick the final 11 for the Test," said Ganguly.
West Indies captain Carl Hooper said his fast bowlers should be able to contain Indian middle-order batsmen. The Indian middle-order batting flourished in both the Tests, with Tendulkar and Dravid scoring hundreds and Laxman three successive half-centuries. "We should get the middle-order batsmen out early," said Hooper. "We'll have to bowl well here, because this Test is the key to the series. If India goes 2-0 up, it is not going to lose the series. "We've won a lot of matches here. We should play better cricket here than we did in Trinidad and try to pull one back." The West Indies has an impressive record at this venue, having lost just three of its 37 Tests.
The host made two changes from the squad that lost the second Test, replacing wicket- keeper Junior Murray and paceman Marlon Black with Ridley Jacobs and Pedro Collins.
India (from): Saurav Ganguly (captain), Shiv Sunder Das, Deep Dasgupta, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatsai Laxman, Dinesh Mongia, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Sanjay Bangar, Ajay Ratra, Tinu Yohannan, Wasim Jaffer, Ashish Nehra, Sharandeep Singh.
West Indies (from): Carl Hooper (captain), Chris Gayle, Stuart Williams, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ridley Jacobs, Mervyn Dillon, Cameron Cuffy, Adam Sanford, Pedro Collins, Dinanath Ramnarine, Ryan Hinds.