Wednesday's World Cup game against the Netherlands affords India just about the last chance to hammer out strategies and gameplans before big battles become the order of the day. After this tie, India play South Africa and West Indies, two formidable opponents, in their final group matches before the knock-outs begin.
India, who have eyes firmly fixed on the quarterfinal spot, would like to finish on top of the group to facilitate an 'easy' outing in the last eight. A victory over the Dutch, the underdogs, at the Ferozeshah Kotla will serve that purpose nicely. In fact, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni declared on Tuesday that the hosts were looking at a comprehensive win.
Going by form and pedigree, that looks like the most likely result of this clash. But as Netherlands captain Peter Borren reminded everyone, "Cricket is a funny game, we've seen it before in this World Cup." So, India will be trying to nip in the bud any 'rebellion' that may rise from the Dutch ranks.
The major point of interest is the eleven India will field on Wednesday. The batting line-up is settled. What is exercising the minds of the captain and his advisers is the bowling department. Will off-spinner R Ashwin play in place of the largely unimpressive Piyush Chawla? Is Ashish Nehra fit enough to get a game at his home ground?
There has been a clamour for Ashwin to be included in the eleven, especially after Chawla's indifferent performance against Ireland in India's last game. But Dhoni, did not divulge anything about the combination he was thinking of going in with. He did, though, says, "Ashwin is a very good bowler who has done really well for us. If our bowling does not click, he is an option." India have probably missed a trick by not opening the bowling with a spinner in any of the games so far. The move could have especially served them well against England.
Harbhajan Singh opened the bowling for India at the T20 World Cup last year almost throughout the event and proved a miserly customer. Ashwin too has experience of bowling with the new ball, an advantage he brings to the table. With two frontline and two support spinners in the eleven, India can afford to bowl one upfront, more so on low-slow, turning tracks like the one at Kotla. Some leading teams have done that to good effect in this World Cup but not India, despite having many tweakers in the armoury.
On Wednesday too, spinners, and slowish bowlers, are going to play a pivotal role because the track promises to keep low and afford turn. Harbhajan, Chawla, Ashwin and even Yusuf Pathan were turning the ball a fair way while bowling on the side pitch during training on Tuesday. Belting runs won't be easy and those hoping for a run-spree are likely to be disappointed.
India would like to finish this one off in a hurry. But if Ryan ten Doeschate and Co are given any leeway, the tale can become a gripping one. And there lies the beauty of the World Cup.