Colombo: India grapple with injury worries and selection dilemmas as they go into the third and final cricket Test against Sri Lanka here on Tuesday with opener Gautam Gambhir ruled out and ace spinner Harbhajan Singh being a doubtful starter.
Trailing 0-1, India cannot settle for anything but an outright victory to square the series but the spate of injuries will make their task a trifle difficult at the P Sara Oval stadium.
Gambhir, who missed out of the second Test because of a knee injury, has not recovered completely while Harbhajan is still uncertain because of a niggle.
“Gautam (Gambhir) is injured. He wont be playing tomorrow. Right now Harbhajan is also doubtful for the match,” Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said,
“There is bit of niggle in his (Harbhajan’s) calf. Not sure how serious it is, so we will take a call on him before the game,” he said.
Gambhir’s absence means that Tamil Nadu opener Murali Vijay, who scored a half-century in the first innings of the second Test, will yet again open the batting with Virender Sehwag as Dhoni has rejected the possibility of fielding a makeshift opener in the crucial match.
He also made it clear that either Suresh Raina, who scored a century in his debut in the second Test, or Yuvraj Singh will have to sit out of the final Test.
“You know the choice between Suresh Raina and Yuvraj is a difficult one. I will just protect the decision till tomorrow morning. Whatever the team decides, we will go by it,” Dhoni said.
Although they don’t have to worry about their top position in the ICC rankings, the Indians do have a few selection dilemmas to deal with on the eve of the match at the P Sara Oval.
The focus will be on veteran Sachin Tendulkar, who is set to surpass Steve Waugh’s record of being the most capped player in Test cricket when he takes the field tomorrow..
The 37-year-old iconic right-hander, who scored a fifth career double hundred in the second Test, also practiced in the nets yesterday, an indication that he would be padding in his record 169th Test having recovered from the groin injury.
Apart from these injury concerns, batting form is hardly an issue for the Indians, who piled up a whopping 707 runs in the first innings of the second Test in reply to Sri Lanka’s 642.
Virender Sehwag was his usual explosive self, providing the start for others to build on in the intimidating line-up that also has the stylish V V S Laxman.
Bowling, however, is a headache for the Indians with the pace department desperately missing the services of Zaheer Khan and S Sreesanth, who were ruled out due to injury.
Ishant Sharma impressed briefly in the second Test but has been off-colour for most of the series and though the young Abhimanyu Mithun has given it his all, the placid pitch here didn’t help his confidence much in the second Test.
Like India, the Lankans don’t have batting issues to worry about as top willow-wielders like Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, the upcoming Tharanga Parnavitana and the destructive Tillakaratne Dilshan are in fine form.
But unlike India, the hosts have a decent bowling attack despite missing the spin wizardary of the now-retired Muttiah Muralitharan.
They were without the lethal Lasith Malinga in the second Test due to injury and there is still a question mark on whether the in-form pacer will play on Tuesday.
India: M S Dhoni (C), Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Murali Vijay, Wriddhiman Saha, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha and Abhimanyu Mithun.
Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (C), Muttiah Muralitharan, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Tharanga Paranavitana, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Angelo Mathews, Prasanna Jayawardene, Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herath, Dilhara Fernando, Dammika Prasad, Suraj Randiv, Thilina Kandamby, Chanaka Welegedara, Lahiru Thirimanne.
Match starts at 10 am (IST).