Cuttack: Comprehensively outplayed by world champions Australia in Mumbai, India need to fire on all cylinders to bolster their chances of reaching the final by prevailing upon a winless New Zealand in a day night encounter of the triangular cricket series on Thursday. With Australia having already assured themselves of a place in the title round by gleaning 18 points from four matches, the Kiwis and the hosts are now in the race for making it to the majestic Eden Gardens venue for the grand final on November 18 though the home side look superior on current form. India, culling eight points from three outings are in the second spot, while the Black Caps have only four points in their kitty from three games.
However, India's build up for the first-ever day-night encounter at the Baramati Stadium hit a speedbreaker when leggie Anil Kumble opted out following the demise of his father, prompting the selectors to rope in Sairaj Bahutule as the replacement in the 14-member squad. Indian coach John Wright has indicated that left- arm-slow bowler Murali Karthik stood a bright chance of making it to the playing eleven as the spin partner of off- spinner Harbhajan Singh. "Kartik did a good job against the West Indies, and he as always done well given a chance," Wright said. On the positive side, the inclusion of seamer Ashish Nehra, sidelined for eight months since spraining his ankle at the World Cup in South Africa earlier this year, has increased the pace options for the Indian team management.
Nehra, who played a vital role in taking India to the World Cup final by claiming 15 wickets with his magical ability to extract lateral movement both ways, seems impatient to return to on-field action. He has been bowling his heart out in the nets to impress the team think-tank. Fast bowling spearhead Zaheer Khan succeeded in the Gwalior tie against the Aussies before being clobbered all around the park in Mumbai; Ajit Agarkar's graph nose- dived at Gwalior before he sparkled in Mumbai.
Thus the pace line up on the morrow might be interesting to watch.With One-day cricket being regarded as a batsman's game, the performances of the top willowers of the two battling sides present a study in contrast. The Indians hold a distinct advantage in the section, with their top order, save Virender Sehwag, firing well in the tournament so far. Doing justice to his awesome reputation, little master Sachin Tendulkar has led the Indian charge plundering 216 runs including a 100 at Gwalior. A highly impressive average of 108 has raised the expectations of his teamamates and fans, who would all expect him to script another memorable knock at the Baramati stadium, that has seen a favourable Indian record of six wins in nine One-dayers.