Vadodara:Bolstered by the return of pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, India would look to stamp their superiority and clinch the five-match series against New Zealand with a third straight victory in the third one-dayer here on Saturday.
A series triumph at the Reliance Stadium on Saturday would not only be a morale boost for India ahead of the forthcoming tour of South Africa and the World Cup after that but would also keep the team entrenched in second spot in the ICC rankings behind leaders Australia.
That India finds itself in this happy situation despite the absence of key players Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh, is an indication of the team's resilience and bench strength though they are playing at home.
Skipper Gautam Gambhir and in-form batsman Virat Kohli are certainties in the team, but the absence of the leading lights has allowed a few others like Murali Vijay, Yusuf Pathan and Ravichandran Ashwin to try and perform, and they have done with varied degrees of success.
The selectors are using the series to try out different players in the run-up to the 2011 World Cup and have rested Shantakumaran Sreesanth with an eye on the South Africa Test series starting on December 16 after the temperamental and injury-prone pace bowler seemed to have rediscovered his rhythm with a haul of seven wickets in the first two ties.
Pace spearhead Zaheer Khan has been brought back for Saturday's encounter, which New Zealand must win to keep the series alive, to ease him back into big-time cricket following a spell of rest and recuperation from his injury.
Indian batting has clicked in stunning fashion in the first two matches, a day affair in Guwahati followed by a day/night one at Jaipur, and the bright aspect for the hosts is that it had achieved success both when setting and chasing targets.
The 40-run victory in the first ODI in the Assam capital, riding on Kohli's masterly hundred backed up by some good bowling, came after setting a target.
The thumping eight-wicket win in the Pink City was after a successful run chase with captain Gambhir providing the major spark with a superb 138 not out and Kohli providing his Delhi colleague with excellent support by striking a half-century.
These two batsmen and left-hander Yuvraj Singh, slowly getting into his groove after being ignored for the Test series, have been the fulcrum on which the Indian batting has performed in the first two ties, and the hosts would be looking up to the likes of Vijay and Yusuf Pathan to put in better efforts than they have done so far.
Vijay, especially, has been given a longer run after his failures to score big despite decent starts and the selectors' eyes would be on him to perform or perish in the run-up to the World Cup.
With Suresh Raina rested for the last three ODIs, a window of opportunity has opened up for young Jharkhand batsman Saurav Tiwary to make it to the playing eleven in the third tie as Rohit Sharma has been added to the team only for the last two encounters at Bangalore and Chennai.
In the bowling department, with Zaheer replacing Sreesanth, the pace attack would be left-oriented though Munaf Patel is there to provide the contrast with his nagging line.
It remains to be seen whether Praveen Kumar has recovered sufficiently from his bout of illness that kept him out of the opening two matches.
Ashwin has been expensive in the slow bowling department but has also taken a few wickets for India. But with Pathan's off breaks being ineffective and expensive, the option with the team management could be to give a look-in to Ravindra Jadeja with his left arm slow stuff.
The Indian bowling has so far restricted the New Zealand batting line-up that missed the explosive willow-wielding prowess of injured Brendon McCullum in the first two matches and the Kiwis are constantly monitoring the progress of the aggressive batsman at the top of the order.
Kiwi batsmen have done well though the team has lost both ties, leading to seven defeats in a row in ODIs, with Martin Guptill at the top of the order being in especially good touch, but they have sorely missed McCullum to give more meat to the line-up.
New Zealand were lacking the extra punch that McCullum, who also revels on Indian pitches, can give its top order and his back injury has severely dented the visiting team's chances of getting the better of the confident Indians. His return to the eleven for the under-performing Jamie How is being eagerly looked forward in the do or die match.
Their bowling is a cause of worry with only the experienced Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills coming up with decent performances in previous ties. Daryl Tuffey returning home due to a bicep injury has dealt a big blow to the visitors.
India have lost their last two encounters against Australia at this venue while New Zealand have not played here since 1998.
Matches at this ground have usually been high-scoring ones and tomorrow's tie looks headed in that direction.
India: Gautam Gambhir (Captain), Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Sourav Tiwary, Yusuf Pathan, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Ravindra Jadeja, R Vinay Kumar.
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (Captain), Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Jamie How, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, Gareth Hopkins (wk), Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Tim Southee, Andy McKay, James Franklin, Grant Elliott.
Hours of play: 9:00 am to 12:30 pm; 1:10 pm to close.
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough and Shavir Tarapore.
Third umpire: Sanjay Hazare; Match referee: Roshan Mahanama.