Tendulkar and Dhoni doubtful starters for Test
Much like an army contingent counting its wounded after battle, the Indian camp was struck with injury worries ahead of the third Test against Pakistan in Bangalore. Their fast-bowling arsenal was hit first with Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel being ruled out, and now doubts over Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni's participation have weakened their strong batting line-up.
The irony is that Pakistan was in a similar position ahead of the second Test in Kolkata. Their captain Shoaib Malik had twisted his ankle, Umar Gul flew home with a back injury and Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami were unwell. However, barring Malik, they have no injury worries at the moment. India, on the other hand, have had to call up Gautam Gambhir on the eve of the match as cover for Tendulkar, who did not practice on Thursday but had a light training session on Friday.
"Sachin, while fielding in the Kolkata Test, aggravated a mild knee problem from the ODI series," Anil Kumble, the Indian captain, said. "Immediately on arrival in Bangalore, a specialist's opinion was sought and, on his advice, an injection was administered. "His condition continues to improve; however, if he fails to recover by tomorrow, we feel it would be wise to call for backup. We will assess him tomorrow morning."
The initial plan was for Dhoni to be rested because of an ankle injury sustained during the final one-dayer in Jaipur but the injury to Tendulkar had forced a rethink. Dhoni played the first two Tests after strapping his ankle and Kumble said he could still play if necessary.
"At this point in time we are still unsure, so I can't really tell you if he [Dhoni] is going to play or not," Kumble said. "He needs about seven days rest to get 100% [fit]. It's not that he can't play with strapping but it's important for us to look ahead because there's a lot of cricket coming up. We need to wait until the morning before we take any decisions."
Unless both Tendulkar and Dhoni are deemed fit enough, which is unlikely, Yuvraj Singh is almost certain to find a spot in the XI. Yuvraj, the Man of the Series for scoring four fifties in five innings in the one-dayers against Pakistan, has been pushing for a spot in the Test middle-order and Kumble said he certainly "deserves his chance". A strong performance from Yuvraj, who last played a Test match in July 2006, will only add to the mounting pressure to make him a part of India's Test plans when they tour Australia.
Another batsman who has an outside chance of making the XI is Gambhir. Although he didn't confirm, Kumble said that there were "possibilities" that Dinesh Karthik could drop down the order if he were to keep wickets if Dhoni didn't play. Such a scenario could inspire both Karthik and Gambhir to raise their game for Karthik has scored only 39 runs in four innings so far and has competition for the opener's slot.
The "onus", as Kumble said, was on India to lift their game and try to maintain the intensity once the Test gets underway. Bangalore hasn't been a successful venue for India in recent times - they lost to both Australia and Pakistan - in 2004-05 and if history does repeat itself, India will rue the missed opportunity to close out the series in Kolkata.
George Binoy is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo