By Nishad Pai Vaidya
With the series in India’s bag, the fifth and final One-Day International (ODI) at the scenic Pallekele International Stadium would be an inconsequential affair. Nevertheless, both teams would like to treat the contest like any other game and put in a performance for a result. While India have nothing to lose, they would want to make a few changes and give the younger lot a go. On the other hand, the hosts would be itching to record a consolation victory as make the scoreline a respectable 3-2.
The big question before Mahendra Sigh Dhoni would be the inclusion of Ajinkya Rahane in the eleven. The promising young batsman from Mumbai has bided his time, but chances have been elusive. His last One-Day International (ODI) came in December last year – which was also a dead game in the series against West Indies. In the two series’ against England which preceded the West Indian visit to India, Rahane had impressed with his copybook technique and stylish approach.
However, once some of India’s preferred options were back in the fray, he was benched – missing the first four ODIs against West Indies. When Virender Sehwag rested for final game at Chennai, Rahane got a chance – one that resulted in an unfortunate first-ball duck. Manoj Tiwary hit a hundred then and edged Rahane from the tour to Australia as Tendulkar returned. In the current scenario, one can sense a feeling of déjà vu.
The only difference this time though has been the failure of Rohit Sharma. He was lucky to play the fourth ODI as Dhoni opted for four bowlers and brought in Tiwary in place of a spinner. But, things have probably reached a point where Rohit may be axed and Rahane would come in. That seems to be the most likely development in the Indian camp in the lead up to the final game.
The team management’s backing for Rohit’s talent is well known and it may not be a surprise if they manage to keep him in the eleven and yet manage to play Rahane. They may consider resting either Gautam Gambhir or Virender Sehwag with Rahane coming in for them. This move may make more sense as an opener would come in place of another. By replacing Rohit with Rahane, India may have to tweak their opening combination to allow the latter that role or force him to bat in the middle.
In any case, Rahane deserves an opportunity in the fifth ODI. But, his performance shouldn’t be judged like it was late last year – where his failure led to his axing. Even if he fails this time, it is imperative to back him as he has been living up to his promise. If Sachin Tendulkar returns to the one-day fold a few months down the line, India shouldn’t make the mistake of leaving Rahane high and dry.
While India seem to be the favourites to win the contest, history doesn’t back them to seal a positive result. In two previous bilateral series’ in Sri Lanka, they failed to win the last game after clinching the series. In 2008, they were up 3-1 going into the final game but were trounced by 112 runs. Early next year, they led the series 4-0 and had the chance to seal a clean-sweep, but ended up losing the last game by 68 runs.
Through all that, one mustn’t forget that India have finished the job at hand in style in the recent past. New Zealand and England were comprehensively beaten 5-0 and West Indies too lost the final ODI in December 2011 – a series which India clinched 4-1. There were no hiccups or any semblance of casualness as the Indian team went about their job very well. The fans would expect a similar approach at Pallekele.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)