Kolkata, Dec 4: In the lead-up to the third India-England Test, all the focus has been on one man - Sachin Tendulkar. And when the first ball is bowled at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday (December 5), the Master Blaster will continue to grab all the attention.
Tendulkar still the fan favourite; Milestone beckons Dhoni
Tendulkar's scores so far in the series are - 13, 8 and 8. And more worrying factor is he is without a Test hundred since January 2011. Another failure in Kolkata will give critics more ammunition to attack the 39-year-old icon.
As he has been over the 23 years in international cricket, Tendulkar has turned up at each and every practice session and gone through his usual batting, fielding and fitness drills. Yet another record beckons for him. Tendulkar is just two short of completing 34,000 international runs.
He has remained silent on his future while the opinions continue to be divided whether he has to quit or not. Some feel Tendulkar is waiting to complete 200 Tests.
The best possible way for him is to score runs at Eden Gardens. With the series evenly poised at 1-1, this is a crucial game for both teams, even more for India as they have to preserve their dominant home record.
Apart from Tendulkar, the Eden Gardens pitch has also been the talking point. With a spat between veteran curator Prabir Mukherjee and India captain MS Dhoni, it will be interesting to see how the 22-yard strip behaves over the next five days. Dhoni inspected the pitch on Monday.
India might not go in with three spinners again. That strategy misfired in Mumbai. With Dhoni trusting R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha more, Harbhajan Singh will have to wait for his 100th Test cap.
Though Harbhajan has a good record in Kolkata, India might not risk the offspinner as he has not been in good form.
Either Ishant Sharma or Ashok Dinda will partner Zaheer Khan, who is six wickets away from 300. If Dinda gets a chance, he will be making Test debut at his home ground.
Cheteshwar Pujara has been India's best batsman in the series so far. He will have to continue his good run for the hosts to post a big total.
For England, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann had the measure of Indian batsmen at Wankhede Stadium. With turn and bounce on offer, Panesar took 11 in the match to trigger Indian batting collapse in the second innings.
Thought Panesar and Swann might not get the same bounce at Eden, they will definitely be handy. They are confident coming from Mumbai.
Ian Bell, who missed the second Test due to the birth of his first child, has returned from England and is available for selections. He is likely to get back his spot replacing Jonny Bairstow.
With tall paceman Steven Finn also fit, there is a possibility of Stuart Broad missing out.
England captain Alastair Cook has been in tremendous form, with two centuries already. He and Kevin Pietersen, who hit 186 in Mumbai, will again carry visitors' batting hopes. Barring these two and Matt Prior, the rest of the batting has not clicked.
Yet again, it could be spin battle in Kolkata. Indian spinners will be hoping to outdo their English counterparts in this Test.
Due to early sunset (before 5PM) in Kolkata, match will start at 9.00 AM (30 minutes early compared to other venues) on all five days.
India: MS Dhoni (captain, wicketkeeper), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Ajinkya Rahane, Harbhajan Singh, Murali Vijay.
England: Alastair Cook (captain), Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Jonny Bairstow, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Samit Patel, Graeme Swann, Steven Finn, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Monty Panesar, Joe Root, Stuart Meaker, Tim Bresnan, Graham Onions.
Umpires: Rod Tucker (Australia) and Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka)
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand)
Play starts at 9.00 AM
First Test: India won by 9 wickets (Ahmedabad)
Second Test: England won by 10 wickets (Mumbai)