Tendulkar's 100th ton back in focus as India take on Windies
The hype is back as Sachin Tendulkar once again seeks to record an unprecedented 100th international century, when a near full-strength India take on West Indies in the first cricket Test beginning in New Delhi on Sunday.
The spotlight will be firmly on Tendulkar who missed the milestone by a whisker when he was trapped in front by Tim Bresnan nine runs short of the elusive landmark during the fifth day of the fourth and final Test against England at the Oval earlier this year.
The senior batsman has been stuck on 99 since the ODI World Cup when he hit two centuries, against England and South Africa.
As for the Indian team, the three-match series gains significance as it will not only give them an opportunity to erase the painful memories of the 0-4 debacle at the Old Blighty, where they meekly surrendered the number one status to England, but will also give the players a chance to prepare for the tough upcoming tour of Australia.
Image: Sachin Tendulkar during a practice session at Feroz Shah Kotla
Sehwag, Gambhir return for India
However, it will not be a cakewalk for the hosts as the West Indies are coming off a series win in Bangladesh, a much-needed one after a series of disappointing outings, and one that seems to have raised the confidence of the visiting players.
The hosts, on the other hand, will be bolstered by the return of stalwarts Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Tendulkar and all of them would look to get into some kind of form ahead of the trip Down Under.
Sehwag has been consistent over the past few seasons while Gambhir and VVS Laxman have already scored two double tons at the Feroz Shah Kotla, hosting its first Test after a 12-month ban.
For Yuvraj, the series will again be a test of character as the elegant left-hander gets one more opportunity to revive his career in the five-day format.
Image: Virender Sehwag
Yuvraj will look to cement his place in team
Yuvraj has recently expressed his desire to cement a permanent slot in the Test squad, and it is to be seen whether he is able to achieve that or not.
The ever-reliable Rahul Dravid who has already notched four centuries this year -- one in the West Indies followed by three in England where he emerged as the lone bright spot in an otherwise disastrous tour -- is expected to continue with his rich vein of form and provide stability to the much-vaunted middle-order.
After suffering his first Test series defeat as skipper, in the tour of England, Mahendra Singh Dhoni would be keen to set the record straight and get back to winning ways as soon as possible.
But on the slow and spin-friendly Indian wickets, the inexperienced bowling attack will have to rise to occasion, if Dhoni harbours hope of smelling the sweet taste of victory again in the five-day format.
Image: Yuvraj Singh plays a flick shot during a practice session at Feroz Shah Kotla
Umesh Yadav, Aaron will share new ball with Ishant
In the absence of pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, rookies Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, both yet to play Tests, have been selected along with local boy Ishant Sharma.
Yadav and Aaron both impressed with their ability to generate pace and provide breakthroughs in India's 5-0 whitewash of England in the recently-concluded ODI series recently, while Ishant re-emerged as a genuine strike bowler, picking up 22 wickets in three Tests in the West Indies earlier this year.
The Delhi bowler could not really replicate that performance in England, but with added responsibility entrusted upon him in Zaheer's absence, he would look to live upto the expectations.
The new-look spin department is without veteran Harbhajan Singh, who is now battling it out in domestic cricket, after being dropped for the first Test.
Pragyan Ojha has played Test cricket before, but ODI specialist Ravichandran Ashwin and a leg-spinner Rahul Sharma are rank newcomers.
Image: Varun Aaron
Bishoo will be key on Indian wickets
The dominating performance against Bangladesh has given West Indies coach Ottis Gibson reasons to hope. The 1-0 win was their first away from home in eight years.
Kirk Edwards struck a sedate 121 in the first innings while flamboyant left-hander Darren Bravo slammed a fine 195 in the second essay to lay the foundation in the second Test at Mirpur.
Leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, who has 32 wickets from seven Tests, then produced his maiden five-wicket haul (5/90) to complete a memorable 229-run victory and seal the series 1-0.
While Gibson has pinned his hopes on Bishoo to do the job in the ongoing series, no less potent is the pace attack that comprise of Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul and Kemar Roach besides skipper Darren Sammy who is also a handy batsman.
The likes of Edwards, Rampaul and Roach have shown glimpses of what they are capable of on their day, and the West Indies would hope the trio get into rhythm straightway.
Image: Devendra Bishoo bowls during a nets session at the Feroz Shah Kotla