Wellington: India is on the verge of creating a history in New Zealand. Team India just need a draw to secure its first series win in New Zealand in 41 years.
After beating New Zealand by 10 wickets in the first test at Hamilton and drawing the high-scoring second test at Napier, India can clinch the three-test series with a win or draw at the Basin Reserve. India's win at Hamilton was its first test win in New Zealand since 1976 and the tourists remain in pursuit of their first test series win here since 1968.
Having established a 1-0 lead at Seddon Park, they need to only draw the third and final Test here to achieve a historic series triumph, last accomplished by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi's team in 1967-68.
But their task wouldn't be a stroll in Wellington as, unlike at Hamilton and and Napier, they will be tested on a sporting deck, which is expected to have a lot of carry and assist lateral movement off the seam.
If India can exorcise their fear against the moving ball, it would help to raise their bar in international cricket as a team which has won Test matches in all conditions and wickets, irrespective of it assisting pace, bounce, swing, seam and cut.
Somehow their inadequate skill or technique in combating the moving ball, has stuck out like a sore pimple on an otherwise good Test profile.
How else can one explain India's four defeat and one win record at the Basin Reserve. Interestingly, they have lost their last four Test matches here (1975-76; 1980-81, 1998-99 and 2002-03).
In fact, they had conjured one of their worst performances in Test history when they were bowled out for below par scores of 161 and 121. But that was when the Kiwis prepared green tops to rattle them.
Today, the Kiwis are wary of the Indian bowling attack. They have refrained from spicing up the deck with grass this time around.
India's performance over the last 18 months has been the envy of every Test playing nation, a duration in which they have beaten the best in exacting situations.
If they reproduce the character and fortitude that they displayed in the second Test at Napier, when they overcame the odds of losing a Test by an innings and salvaged a draw, the Kiwis, who have strengthened their pace attack by calling in Tim Southee, should be ones squirming.
India's formidable batting has kept them in good stead with Sachin Tendulkar topping the run aggregate with (273 in three innings), followed by Gautam Gambhir (255), VVS Laxman (230) and Rahul Dravid (219).
The return of skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who missed the second Test with a sore back, and the refreshing form of Yuvraj Singh, who gathered his shattered confidence with a breezy 54 not out in the second innings at Napier, augments India's batting reserves.
If Sehwag, who has been magnanimous in offering his wicket on a platter in both the Tests, can churn out a substantial score, the flightless Kiwis' wings could be clipped on their favorite hunting ground.
If the Kiwis hope that the lively wicket would throw the Indian batsmen out of their rhythm, they would be making a huge mistake. Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma have the reputation of bowling out Ricky Ponting's Aussies on flatter and drier wickets at home.
They have already exposed the chinks in New Zealand's batting in two deadly spells at Hamilton (60 for 6 in the first session) and Napier (23 for three). If the aisle truly assists the quicks, the striking-twosome should be a force to reckon with.
Jesse Ryder by far has been the best Kiwi batsman, making 102, 21 and 201 in three visits to the wicket, though Brendon McCullum has held the innings together with some plucky performances (3, 84 and 115) down the order.
Ross Taylor did make a rollicking 151 at the McLean Park, but his innings wasn't as convincing as the ones produced by Ryder.
The battle will be as much in the mind as on the wicket. The team which bats longer will come up trumps from this battle of attrition, wherein New Zealand need to pull back one to draw the series and Dhoni's men need either a draw or a win to wrap up a glorious Indian summer in the antipodes.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Laxmipathy Balaji.
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (captain), Martin Guptill, Tim McIntosh, Daniel Flynn, Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder, Brendon McCullum, James Franklin, Kyle Mills, Chris Martin, Tim Southee, Iain O'Brien, Jeetan Patel.
Umpires: Simon Taufel, Daryl Harper. Third umpire: Tony Hill. Fourth umpire: B Quested.
Match referee: Allan Hurst.
Match starts 3:30 am IST on Friday.
thatscricket with input from Agencies