Having clinched the five-match series already, India would have arrived at the nippy Dharamsala buoyed by the warmth of finally having something to hit back at critics with. Following an abysmal 2012 which saw the team plunge to never-before lows, the New Year didn’t begin well for Team India as they lost the three-match One-Day International (ODI) series to arch-rivals Pakistan.
The Englishmen then picked up from where they left the country for a Christmas break, following a historic Test series triumph on India’s rank turners. In a high-scoring match played on an archetypal placid Rajkot track, England won the first of the five ODIs by nine runs. Was the slump ever going to end for India?
Hell, yeah, said MS Dhoni as he helped the hosts pummel England by 127 runs in the second match at Kochi. Eventually, it did seem as if the backwaters of Kerala had allowed India a backdoor entry into the series. The hosts went on to record two more crushing wins at Ranchi and Mohali, thereby sealing what was a must-win series – one that would probably have a lot of careers riding on it, including captain Dhoni’s own.
But India will be the warmer of the two teams going into the final ODI at the scenic Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) stadium in the heart of winter. Located 4,000 feet above sea level, flanked by the snow-capped Dhauladhar mountain range, and harbouring temperatures at sub-zero levels, India’s Virat Kohli would be a pleased man after his wish of sealing the series at Mohali and leaving nothing to chance (read weather) was fulfilled.
Even though the match is purely of academic interest, world No 1 India would look to record a win in the last of their engagements prior to a tricky home Test series against Australia starting February 23. A win at Dharamsala, resulting in a 4-1 demolition of the Englishmen, would be the ideal tonic to boost up the morale of a team that has endured nothing less than agony – physical and mental – in the 20 months following their 2011 World Cup triumph. A win would prep them up well and good to welcome Michael Clarke’s team in less than a month’s time.
As for the young, inexperienced England team, other than the customary pride being at stake, they would want to end an otherwise successful tour (counting the Test and T20 series) to the subcontinent on a high note. Yes, this ODI team isn’t the same one that humiliated India in their own backyard in November-December last year. It’s a squad sans the deceiving swing of James Anderson, the misleading trajectory of Graeme Swann’s flighters and the oxymoronic pace of Monty Panesar’s slow left-armers. True, their batting has failed even with Cook and Kevin Pietersen, both of whom wiped the dust bowls at Mumbai and Kolkata clean with India’s bowlers, present in the side. But these guys are exactly the kind of players who will want to amend things at the earliest.
Both teams would look to make some changes in their respective eleven while playing for the dead rubber. India might give Cheteshwar Pujara an ODI debut and the non-performing Gautam Gambhir could miss out. After Rohit Sharma had a successful outing at Mohali as an opener, Dhoni might just experiment and slot Pujara and Rohit at the top of the order on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if Ajinkya Rahane returns to the playing eleven after missing out at Mohali. The 24-year-old would find himself unlucky to be dropped after just two failures (four at Kochi and naught at Ranchi). The rest of the Indian batting line-up looks set with Kohli, Suresh Raina and Dhoni in good touch.
In the bowling department, Ishant Sharma has had a mediocre last two series and has failed to cement his position as India’s leading fast bowler. It’s a different story that he doesn’t want that mantle. Ashok Dinda could just get a recall ahead of the lanky Ishant. Ravichandran Ashwin too could get the axe in place of leg-spinner Amit Mishra, who has been warming the bench thus far.
As for England, pacer Jade Dernbach has been one of the most expensive bowlers in the world in recent times. His figures in the four matches played so far in the series read: two for 69, two for 73, none for 45 and two for 59. Dernbach could be dropped in favour of Stuart Meaker at Dharamsala. England’s bowling attack was further hampered after Tim Bresnan pulled out due to an elbow injury. 23-year-old Chris Woakes is likely to take his place in the side.
It’s all or nothing to play for, depending on how you see it, at 4,000 feet and close to freezing point for both teams. Both will look to end on a high and both will have to huff and puff in the northern India winter for it. Dharamsala has waited long for an international cricket match, and a dead rubber isn’t going to change any of that – for the fans nor the players.
India (Probable): Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Ashok Dinda, Shami Ahmed.
England (Probable): Alastair Cook (c), Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan, Joe Root, Samit Patel, Jos Buttler (wk), Chris Woakes, James Tredwell, Steven Finn, Stuart Meaker.
Time: 09.30 local (04.00 GMT)
(JaideepVaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn't fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber )
First Published: January 25, 2013, 9:01 pm