New Delhi: Anil Kumble returns to his happy hunting ground here on Thursday in the opening Test against Pakistan, hoping to begin his new innings as India captain on a winning note.
India's last Test against Pakistan at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground here in 1999 was a personal triumph for the leg-spinner, who became only the second bowler after Englishman Jim Laker to bag 10 wickets in an innings.
Kumble, the third-highest wicket-taker in Test history on 566 after retired Australian Shane Warne (708) and Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan (704), is a proven match-winner with disciplined bowling and subtle variations.
But his turn as captain in this high-pressure three-Test series will be a different challenge altogether, with the 37-year-old holding the key to his nation's fortunes on pitches expected to favour spin.
"All India-Pakistan series are closely contested and I don't see any reason why this should be any different. In terms of Test cricket, we have done very well in the recent past," Kumble said in a recent interview.
"We have a good team that is experienced and we are playing at home which is an advantage."
Kumble carries a burden of expectations after taking over the captaincy from Rahul Dravid, who led India to rare Test series wins in the West Indies in 2006 and then in England this year.
The hosts suffered a setback when pacemen Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and Rudra Pratap Singh were ruled out of the first Test due to injuries.
Indian cricket board secretary Niranjan Shah said in a statement that fast bowler Munaf Patel had been included in the squad.
Kumble will be called upon to make a couple of tough decisions in his very first Test.
India have three spinners in Harbhajan Singh, Murali Kartik and Kumble in the squad, with only two likely to figure in the playing eleven for the opening match to maintain the balance.
The dilemma is that both off-spinner Harbhajan and left-arm spinner Kartik were in form in recent one-dayers at home against Pakistan and World Cup winners Australia.
India's other problem lies in the middle order, where in-form batsmen Yuvraj Singh and Venkatsai Laxman are vying for one spot.
The aggressive Yuvraj was India's top scorer with 272 in five one-dayers against Pakistan, while Laxman has always been considered a safe bet in the longer version of the game because of his temperament and technique.
Pakistan may have lost the recent one-day series 3-2, but have the resources to stretch India in Tests despite the absence of formidable batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq who quit the game last month.
Inzamam was instrumental in squaring a three-match series in India in 2005, cracking a century in his 100th Test at Bangalore to pave the way for his team's victory.
Pakistan have reliable batsmen in Mohammad Yousuf, vice-captain Younis Khan and skipper Shoaib Malik to put pressure on the Indian attack. The trio will have an added responsbility in the absence of a settled opening pair.
Pakistan tried two different opening combinations in a two-Test series at home against South Africa last month, but have yet to find a durable pair.
Left-handed Salman Butt alone has cemented his place as an opener following his impressive one-day performances on the current tour.
Pakistan expect fiery paceman Shoaib Akhtar to deliver in a bid to contain a strong Indian batting line-up. He has been steadily regaining form and fitness after serving a 13-match ban.
Akhtar was suspended primarily for hitting teammate Mohammad Asif with a bat ahead of the Twenty20 World Championships in South Africa in September, but showed glimpses of his old form in the recent one-dayers against India.
Pakistan (from): Shoaib Malik (capt), Salman Butt, Yasir Hameed, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, Faisal Iqbal, Kamran Akmal, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Abdur Rehman, Mohammad Sami, Danish Kaneria.
India (from): Anil Kumble (capt), Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Venkatsai Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Murali Kartik, Munaf Patel.